Heading into tonight’s tilt between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens there is a sense of excitement.
In fact, when it comes to this years playoffs, I am confident that the Bruins/Canadiens match is the most anticipated matchup in quite some time for many NHL fans, not just the fans of the Bruins and Habs.
At the core of the curiosity are a couple of regular season incidents which may very well serve as an appetizer for what is to come in this series.
First, came a brawl between the two teams in early February, which even saw the Two goaltenders—Carey Price for Montreal and Tim Thomas for Boston—duke it out!
Then, the entire hockey world gasped for air, as Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara hammered Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty into the stanchion, leaving Pacioretty concussed and Montreal fans, steaming mad.
When you add these two incidents to an already epic playoff history between the two sides you have the makings for what should serve as one of the more emotional Stanley Cup Playoff Series in recent memory.
With all this in mind, here are the top ten observations and story lines from game one of the series.
Both the Boston Garden and the Bell Centre are two of the more emotional arenas in which to play.
The Bruins may only be separated by about 500 kilometres, but the two cities are complete polar opposites.
Politics, language and borders separate these two clubs, but nobody can say one fan base is any less of a hockey fan. Both of these cities love their puck and, why both fan bases have a reputation for being tough on their clubs in times of struggle, both of these cities love their respective hockey clubs and are as loyal and boisterous as they come.
Tonight’s National Anthem’s went off without a hitch, and while it remains to be seen if the Montreal fans can remain respectful, it appears as if the Bruin fans will reserve their booing for Montreal players.
As this series goes on one can see both crowds getting a little off-side. God bless the team that loses this series, they will never hear the end of it from their foes.
That’s right, I said it—just like Charlie Sheen, Carey Price has tiger blood!
Calm, poised and consistently in position, Carey Price was a big reason the Bruins crowd was out of the game within the first ten minutes of the first period.
Both Price and Tim Thomas should get plenty of consideration for the Vezina Trophy based on their stellar work in the regular season.
For the most part, both of these goalies watched from the bench during last years playoffs as former Montreal netminder Jaroslav Halak emerged as the Canadiens go-to goaltender last season and Tuukka Rask manned the net for the Bruins.
For both goalies, there has to be a certain amount of satisfaction that (A) they are now their teams go-to goalies and (B) that they are facing each other—two of this seasons best goaltenders.
Price was absolutely dominant tonight, making 31 saves for his third playoff shutout of his career. Thomas? Average at best...
Hey—if you want to be the best, you gotta beat the best, right? Price did just that tonight.
Since coming over from the Toronto Maple Leafs, Thomas Kaberle has done little to improve the Bruins overall game.
Thought to be a key cog to improving the Bruins sagging power play, Kaberle has been one of the reasons that the Bruins have actually gotten worse on the power play, rather than better.
Early on in the first period and with the Canadiens pressing down low, Kaberle was directly responsible for the games first goal, as he failed to clear the zone, resulting in Montreal forward Brian Gionta depositing an uncontested puck behind Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas.
Out of the playoffs for what feels like a decade, Kaberle (who was a minus-2 and had zero shots on the night) is going to have to pick it up a notch or the Bruins are going to pay an even steeper price than they did when they brought Kaberle into the fold—they are going to lose this series.
Prior to the drop of the puck, the CBC broadcast showed P.K. Subban in the warm up area bumping chests with teammates and looking anything but calm, cool and collected.
Was it a case of game time jitters? Nervous energy? or just raw emotion? One thing is for sure, this kid is always hyped, which should serve him well throughout the series.
To his credit, Subban kept it together all game long—staying out of the penalty box and playing a conservative/poised game.
Subban looked to be a wild card heading into this series, it remains to be seen if he can keep his emotions in check throughout the series—he did a great job tonight.
At 5’7”, 173 pounds and 5’11”, 198 pounds, Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez are two of the smaller (especially Gionta) players on the ice in this series.
Well, it appears as if size does not matter thus far as, when you take a look at the scorecard you will only find two players—Brian Gionta (with two goals on the night) and Scott Gomez (with two assists on the night).
The Bruising Bruins had better find a way to contain those two little men—as it stands now, it appears as if David is beating Goliath!
To the surprise of many, the Montreal Canadiens led the regular season series, defeating the Boston Bruins in four of their six matches.
Many feel the key to Montreal’s success was their speed and agility, but they also outhit the Bruins by a 143-135 margin.
The Bruins may have laid out a few more big hits, but to suggest that the Bruins have been dominating the Canadiens in the hit department this season is pure fodder.
As for tonight’s game? The Bruins had 29 hits, while the Habs had 28—with Ryan White and James Wisniewski leading the way with seven and five hits, respectively.
It’s very early in the series, but it appears as if Montreal Canadiens forward Tomas Plekanec has been asked to put his offensive talents on the shelf in favor of accepting a checking role against Boston Bruins centre David Krejci.
Krejci is the straw that stirs the Bruins’ first line, which includes Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton and the aforementioned Krejci.
While neither player is known for their toughness, look for this battle to heat up as the series goes on, with the winner making it possible for their team to move on to the second round of the playoffs.
Plekanec played close to 20 minutes of hockey, registering five shots on net and emerging as an ‘even’ player.
Krejci? Just under 20 minutes of play, zero shots and a minus one on the evening.
Heading into the series many felt that the team that won the mental battles and/or controlled their emotions, would win the series.
Game one saw the Canadiens turning the other cheek on more than one occasion, while the Bruins were caught taking things too far and being overly aggressive on occasion.
One such incident saw a Nathan Horton cross check Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban upwards of six times after Subban lightly tapped him in front of the Canadiens net.
Horton was not penalized on the play, but it’s only a matter of time before the refs catch Horton and the Bruins in the act, which will allow one of the games best power plays to run a muck on the Bruins 16th ranked penalty kill.
You can hit them, you can slash them, you can chirp at them all you want— it appears as if the Montreal Canadiens will NOT react to anything the Bruins throw at them, which is paying huge dividends.
Subban also turned his back on Milan Lucic after Lucic had some choice words for him, while Roman Hamrlik turned the other cheek when Brad Marchand tried to engage in a “conversation” with him after Hamrlik hit Marchand into the boards, and so on.
For their part, the Bruins seem to be looking for a fight after every play, which is exactly what the Canadiens want them to do.
Boston needs to change their tune or they will be watching much of the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the golf course.
Like most playoff series, the key to success is often having your best players be your best players.
On the surface, it sounds simple enough. That said, there are countless examples of playoff teams that fell short due to their super stars suddenly going missing in action.
Carey Price was the Best player on the ice in game one, Brian Gionta was a monster tonight, Scott Gomez may have had his best game all season, P.K. Subban looked like the P.K. Subban from last years playoffs and Tomas Plekanec had an epic performance in shutting down the Bruins first line.
In contrast, Milan Lucic failed to get much going, Zdeno Chara lost his temper, Tomas Kaberle was sloppy, Tim Tomas looked unfocused at times, Nathan Horton was all but invisible, David Krejci failed to register a shot on goal and Brad Marchand made numerous mistakes.
Simply put, Boston’s best players were amongst their worst, which was a huge reason the Bruins no longer have home ice advantage as they now find themselves down 1-0 in the series.
Clearly, if the Bruins are to be successful against the Habs they are going to have to tighten up defensively and find a way to get bodies in front of Montreal goaltender Carey Price.
The Bruins appeared frazzled, inattentive to details and frustrated by the Canadiens refusal to engage with them physically.
Milan Lucic must have a better game, Zdeno Chara must use his size to punish the Canadiens small forwards and David Krejci must break free from Tomas Plekanec.
On the other side of the coin, the Canadiens can only hope that they can execute in game two as flawlessly as they did in game one.
Everything went right for the Habs tonight—the crowd was out of the game by the halfway point of the first period, they had an early 1-0 lead, Carey Price was brilliant, P.K. Subban stayed out of trouble and, as I keep mentioning, Plekanec was exceptional in shutting down David Krejci and the Bruins first line.
The Bruins have a ton of work to do if they want to get back into this series. If it was a wake up call they were waiting for, they have it. Expect a very different Bruins team in game two—question is, if the same Canadiens team shows up, will a different Bruins team be enough to pull off a game two victory, or will the Habs emerge from the Boston Garden with a 2-0 series lead?
Until next time,