With all the pregame hype for last night's match between the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens, you figured it would either be one for the ages or a total bust.
Well from the hype perspective, it ended up being the latter and only because the Montreal Canadiens did not show up.
You have to give full marks to the Bruins who not only shellacked the Habs for seven goals, chasing Carey Price from the net after five, but they did it without all of the antics.
Montreal had previously beaten the Bruins in four of the five matches by focusing on hockey and ignoring the fistucuffs. But last night Boston stuck to playing hockey and showed the Canadiens that they could beat them at their own game.
Boston scored only 1:01 into the game when Johnny Boychuk's shot beat a screened Price up high. After that, the Bruins opened the flood gates by scoring two more in the first and four straight in the third.
Tim Thomas had a relatively easy night, turning aside all 24 shots he faced for his eighth shutout of the season while Price was largely left to his own devices.
Last night was easily Montreal's worst performance of the season in their most important game of the year. Where were the veteran players? Where was this team’s infamous heart and character?
Like Frère André, I think they left their heart in Montreal.
Final score: Boston 7 - Habs 0
Habs scorers: None
Bruins scorers: Johnny Boychuk (2), Gregory Campbell (11, 12), Nathan Horton (21, 22), Adam McQuaid (3), Tomas Kaberle (4)
Three stars: 1. Zdeno Chara, 2. David Krejci, 3. Nathan Horton
Tomas Plekanec was back but not ready.
After missing five games due to a lower body injury, Tomas Plekanec was back in the lineup last night. Given that he is the Canadiens leading scorer and plays on the top PP and PK units, you would think his presence would provide a huge boost for the Habs.
Unfortunately for Montreal things didn't work out that way.
Plekanec was on the ice for the first two Bruins' goals—he finished the night an uncharacteristic minus-four—and in the penalty box for their third.
Not exactly the "comeback" that the Habs had hoped for but after missing five games, it wasn't entirely surprising to see he wasn't in top form.
The Canadiens also got Brent Sopel, Jeff Halpern and Mathieu Darche back last night and none of them looked entirely ready for action. It's one thing to no longer be injured, but it is another thing entirely to get back into game shape.
Give Plekanec a few games and he should get it back.
Boston was focused on victory.
Before the game NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman, told both teams to stick to hockey and stay away from the dirty stuff.
Well the message was heard loud and clear by the usually chippy Bruins.
From the drop of the puck Boston was disciplined and focused on winning on the scoreboard and not the fight card. The Habs almost seemed ready for and expecting a physical battle, but when it failed materialized they didn't know what to do.
Montreal tried to get things going early when Travis Moen pushed Zdeno Chara after the whistle. In addition, P.K. Subban gave Tim Thomas a spray of ice as the latter was covering the puck. But on both occasions, the Bruins didn't bite, didn't get involved in the game Montreal was trying to employ and just skated away.
That, ladies and gentleman, is playoff hockey. As much as the focus has been on the fights, hits and injuries, the Bruins played the way they needed to in order to win.
Last night's victory is sure to give them a huge confidence boost come playoff time.
The Canadiens "best" players were their worst players.
Not only did Plekanec have a bad game but Scott Gomez—two assists over his last eight games—and Michael Cammalleri—five points (1G, 4A) over his last eight—were abysmal.
Montreal was dominated for the first twenty minutes of the game but managed a little push back in the second. But just as the momentum was swinging their way Scott Gomez took a careless high sticking penalty, sending the Bs to the power play.
Needless to say, the penalty killed a lot of momentum even though the Bruins were unable to score.
A few minutes later, with the Habs again starting to build momentum and the score only 3-0 Boston, Gomez skated the puck through the Habs zone with no one pressuring him. He inexplicably lost control of it, turning it over to Chris Kelly, and then hooked the Bruins' player in an attempt to recover from his mistake.
Gomez's nonchalance on the play is what led to turnover and the penalty.
It was just another careless play from the guy who was supposed to be the Habs No.1 center. The bottom line is that ridiculous salary and contract aside, Gomez continues to hold the team back instead of leading the charge.
That Jacques Martin has let it go on all season with neither punishment, demotion nor reduction in ice time, is a huge mistake that continues to hinder the team.
Where's all the offense?
Including the shutout loss to the Sabres on Tuesday, Montreal has not gone two games without scoring a goal. 126:05 to be exact.
The young guns have brought a lot to the party this season, but how long can the team go without their top-six performing?
With only eight games left in the season players like Gomez, Michael Cammalleri and even Brian Gionta need to take long, hard looks in the mirror. These are the offensive veterans of this team and, aside from Gionta, they are not getting it done.
Cammalleri, like Gomez, also had a terrible game last night.
He was missing defensive assignments, making poor decisions with the puck and continues to be one of the worst players on the team without it. Cammalleri just isn't bringing anything to the table offensively and continues to be atrocious defensively.
Cammalleri finished the night a minus-four.
Gionta is the only one of the "little three" that has been showing any semblance of strong play but even he needs to bring more to the table.
The real problem is that aside from a few games here and there, neither Cammalleri nor Gomez have played well for any length of time this year. With the clock ticking on the season it seems highly unlikely that they will suddenly get it going.
The Canadiens have had to win this year despite these players and not because of them and as I have said before, I shudder to think how bad they would be without Price.
A Note on the goaltenders
Thomas played well when called on last night but Boston did an excellent job of keeping Montreal to the outside. Most of the Habs' shots were first chances with no one in front of or even near the net. As such, the chances of scoring on a goaltender the caliber of Thomas go way down.
As for Price, he was the main reason that this wasn't a five or six goal game after 20 minutes.
But, as has been the case far too many times this season, when Price is unable to stand on his head the team loses. Price did let in five goals on 33 shots but the team had no defensive structure to speak of.
The Jacques Martin five-man defensive unit was abandoned in favour of a scattered free-for-all. As such, Price really had very little chance on most of the goals that got by him.
Prior to last night's game, Price was in the discussion for both Vezina and Hart trophies. After the loss, however, I think Price is no longer in the running for the former.
He can thank his teammates for that.
Standings and Next Game
The Canadiens' once strong hold on sixth overall in the East suddenly looks very tenuous. With the Rangers earning one point in a shootout loss to the Sens last night, they are now only two back of Montreal.
Also, the Sabres are only six back of the Habs with two games in hand.
Montreal likely needs to finish the season with 92 or 93 points to qualify for the playoffs. This means that with seven games left, they need five or six more points. If they keep playing as poorly as they have recently they could conceivably slide all the way to eighth.
A slippery slope indeed.
Ahead of Montreal are the Lightning with 89 points and two games in hand, the Penguins with 94 points and one game in hand and the Bruins with 92 points and two games in hand.
Things don't get any easier for the slumping Habs, as they now travel back to Montreal for a Saturday night tilt against the red-hot Capitals.
Kamal is a freelance Habs writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com and Habs writer on TheFranchise.ca. Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on The Team 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 8 - 9 AM. Listen live at http://www.team990.com/