The Montreal Canadiens continued their surprising ways last night against the Boston Bruins, winning 3-1 to take a 2-0 series lead.
After the Habs shutout Boston in Game 1 you expected a stronger effort from the Bruins, but they were once again their own worst enemies. Montreal's aggressive forecheck created a ton of pressure at the Bruins blue line, resulting in turnovers and Canadiens scoring chances.
Montreal used their speed to beat Boston to the puck again and again last night, doing an outstanding job of winning the one-on-one battles. As such, aside from a 10-minute stretch in the second period, the Bruins had a difficult time getting anything going.
Montreal clearly has everyone pulling in the same direction. From Yannick Weber throwing punishing body checks and Benoit Pouliot taking a huge hit without retaliating to Mathieu Darche going to the net with conviction and Hal Gill blocking five shots, the Canadiens are all in it for the good of the team.
All of the players are sacrificing for their team and teammates, and they are winning as a result.
The greatest example of the Habs' willingness to sacrifice is their 27 blocked shots last night. Contrast that with eight blocked shots by Boston and you can see, statistically, how the Habs are doing more to win. There is no question that Boston out-shooting Montreal has something to do with it, but the Canadiens are just willing to do more in every facet of the game.
The Habs willingness to sacrifice is also illustrated by Andrei Kostitsyn being out of last night's lineup. AK46 took a booming shot off his foot from Zdeno Chara in Game 1, and didn't play last night as a result. When players like Kostitsyn are blocking shots you know the message has been sent and received at all levels of the team.
Speed, Aggression and scoring
Montreal has done an excellent job of causing Boston turnovers with their speed and aggressive forecheck. It's not your typical two-men-deep forecheck, but rather one that is based on attacking the Bruins' forward at their own blue-line.
The Habs forecheckers are on the Bruins forward like white on rice, attacking them as soon as they receive an outlet pass. The result is very little time and space for the slower Bruins forwards, and a lot of unforced errors.
And with each turnover the Canadiens seem to get another quality scoring chance.
Montreal is effectively using their biggest strength, speed, to counter-attack and shutdown the Bruins zone-clearing attempts. As a result, Boston is scrambling in their own end as they feel significant pressure from the aggressive forecheck.
Boston, so far, has not had an answer for Montreal's speed.
Carey Price has only let in one goal over two games. That goal was scored by Patrice Bergeron last night at 7:38 of the second period, making it a 2-1 game. After that goal, the Bruins were buoyed by some renewed confidence and played their most convincing hockey of the series.
Boston became that aggressive Bruins team that you expected, forechecking hard, laying the body and becoming difficult to contain in the Canadiens' zone. The problem for Boston, however, is that Montreal continued to block shots and did an excellent job of clearing the crease while keeping the Bruins mostly to the outside.
The Bruins' lone chance from the slot was a golden opportunity by Milan Lucic.
With Boston buzzing, Lucic received the puck in the slot without a Habs jersey in sight. His one-timer would have made it to the back of the net if it wasn't for a brilliant sliding save by Carey Price. The score was 2-1 at that point and a goal by Boston would have changed the outlook of not only the game, but perhaps the entire series.
Price continues to be cool as a cucumber for Montreal and his defense is doing an excellent job of letting him see the puck. The combination is formidable and extremely difficult for the Bruins to pierce.
As for Boston, Tim Thomas has not looked great. While he certainly can't be blamed for either loss, his rebound control leaves something to be desired. Worse yet, Montreal seems to have him figured out, scoring most of their goals in the same manner.
Montreal's tactic is to shoot the puck low from the outside with a player heading to the net on the opposite wing, resulting in Thomas, more often than not, kicking uout a rebound right to the streaking Canadien. The Habs' player uses their speed to beat Boston's defender to the puck, firing it into the empty net.
Aside from Brian Gionta's second goal of Game 1, all of the Canadiens goals have been scored in this exact manner.
You think the book is out on Tim Thomas?
The Habs, who would have been happy to "steal" one in Boston, have instead earned two. They come back to the friendly confines of the Bell Centre for Game 3 on Monday. While there is still a lot of hockey to be played, Montreal, unbelievably, is in position to actually sweep the Bruins.
Jacques Martin is all about matching lines, and with the last change in Montreal, things are not about to get any easier for the Bruins.
Boston, wanting to avoid the insanity that is Montreal in the playoffs, has gone to Lake Placid until Monday. With two days off between games three and four, Boston will return to Lake Placid regardless of the outcome on Monday.
I would say that Boston has to bring more of a physical game but it doesn't seem like that's going to make a difference right now. Boston is in a lot of trouble and cracks are showing with their management group, coaching staff and players on the ice. This is a team in disarray and, if they're not careful, they could get knocked out in four-straight games.
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/