"Panic. It crept up my spine like the first rising vibes of an acid frenzy." - Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Well, perhaps panic is not the right word since with Game 1 of the Montreal Canadiens-Boston Bruins first-round matchup set to start tonight, no one is panicking.
But there is excitement. A ton of it. It doesn't affect your spine, however, but more the chest-stomach region, which gets twisted into a tension-filled, knot of stress. And this nervous anticipation or coffee buzz-like jitter is coursing through the entire city of Montreal this morning. Whether at the bus stop, the corner store, while stuck in traffic or sitting at their desks, everyone seems intensely aware of what awaits the Canadiens tonight in Boston.
I could quote stats from this past year, all-time records between these two teams, talk about both goaltenders' struggles or successes against the opposing team, but none of that matters anymore. While too many are either focusing on the last game where Montreal was bombed out of the rink, 7-0, or the Canadiens' 4-2-0 record against Boston this year, this is the playoffs and everything is reset.
That's why players like Scott Gomez, who had a career-low 38 points this year, feels renewed and refreshed. He gets a chance to redeem himself now when it matters most.
Brian Gionta's 29 goals during the regular season mean little if he can't find the back of the net against the Bruins. Milan Lucic's intense physicality and 30-goal season are for not if he gets shut down by Hal Gill and P.K. Subban.
All that matters right now is what the players do, starting tonight, when the puck drops on one of the most highly anticipated series in recent memory.
All hands on deck...
The TD Garden in Boston is going to be hopping tonight with the Bruins feeding off the voracious crowd's energy. As such, the Canadiens must be ready for an early onslaught and need to weather the storm and initial adrenaline surge.
The Habs' primary task tonight will be to escape the first five or 10 minutes unscathed. If they can score the first goal that's even better, but they must absolutely keep Boston off the scoreboard in the first 10 minutes. After that, the adrenaline will start to ebb a little and the game will settle into a move even groove.
If Boston is able to get an early one past Carey Price, watch out because the Bruins might just steamroll Les Glorieux.
The second major task Montreal has is to clear Price's crease.
As mentioned yesterday on the Team 990, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Bruins knock Price over a few times in the first 10 minutes, perhaps even taking a penalty in the process. The idea for Boston is to send a message and set the tone.
Speaking of setting the tone, the Bruins are sure to be crashing and banging right off the bat and Montreal needs to be ready for it. Subban, in particular, will be targeted for physical punishment all night and all series. However from all the sound bites, the exuberant rookie is not only aware of what is to come, but is looking forward to it!
Of course he is.
It's all about speed
So if the Habs can weather the storm in the first 10 minutes, it will then be time for them to get their speed game going.
Montreal's speed game is based off a quick but smooth transition from defense to offense. As such, their forwards have to come back deep into their own zone to get it going. Having their forwards deep will allow for quick, short passes from their D, turning the puck up ice quickly and allowing the Habs to attack the Bruins zone with speed.
The Bruins will make every attempt to play to their strength, which is a physical, grinding game. Montreal must do its best to keep the game in their area of strength: speed and skill.
If the Habs can do that, they should be able to draw penalties from the slower Bruins players as they struggle to contain them. If that happens, the Canadiens need their power play to be effective, punishing Boston on the scoreboard for any infractions.
And that's it. That's the game plan.
As indicated in my series preview, if the Canadiens can pull off a win tonight it will change the entire complexion of the series. Perhaps a little doubt will even creep into the Bruins' minds and that's key for Montreal. I firmly believe the Canadiens must win one of the first two games in Boston to have a chance at taking this series. Game 1 sounds like as good a time as any to test that theory out.
Game time is 7 p.m. Intense pit-of-your-stomach anxiety peaks at about 6:59 p.m.
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/