The Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins get back to action tonight in Game 4 of their first round playoff series.
Through three games, both teams have shown that their score-first-then-shut-it-down-defensively scheme is the path to victory.
Montreal employed this strategy in Games 1 and 2 in Boston, while the Bruins returned the favour Monday night for Game 3 in Montreal.
So after a two-day break in play, the teams will jump back on the ice tonight at the Bell Centre in perhaps the most critical game for either team this season.
With the Canadiens holding a 2-1 series lead and having stolen home-ice advantage away from the Bruins, they do not—under any circumstances—want to go back to Boston tied at two games apiece.
Montreal worked hard to earn two road victories in Games 1 and 2, and they know they missed an opportunity to put the Bruins on the mat Monday night. That being said, the Habs are still in the driver's seat and have enough veteran leadership that a loss tonight would not necessarily spell the end.
Players like Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez, Hal Gill, Brent Sopel and Travis Moen all have Stanley Cup rings and have seen enough playoff situations that win or lose, they'll keep the boat afloat.
That being said, going back to Boston tied at two when the Habs have the opportunity to take a stranglehold tonight would be playing with fire. The Bruins are already talking like a team with renewed confidence and a 2-2 series might just give them the edge to bury Montreal.
And the Habs know it.
As such, they need to play the way they did in the final 30 minutes of Game 3, using their speed and skill to bury the Bruins. Carey Price needs to continue with his excellent goaltending and Montreal has to get their power play rolling.
Not so special teams
Let's be honest here: Penalty kill aside, neither team has been setting the world on fire in the special teams department.
Montreal, who finished the season with the seventh overall PP, has scored only once on 11 opportunities.
Boston has also struggled with the extra man, being blanked in all 11 PP chances. As such, they have put a lot of work into fixing their power play over the last few days, shifting up their first and second units in the hopes of finding a spark.
Bad penalties by both teams have been a big part of this series and at some point it has to catch up to them. For some reason, I get a feeling that tonight will be the night that the PP decides the game.
Speaking of bad penalties, perennially-bad-penalty-taking Benoit Pouliot will be a healthy scratch tonight for Montreal.
Pouliot, who has been in and out of Jacques Martin's doghouse all season, took a foolish charging penalty in Game 3, after which he was benched for the entire third.
Martin, who has clearly lost patience with Pouliot, will be inserting Jeff Halpern back into the lineup in his place. Halpern has been on the sidelines since March and was practicing on a line with Lars Eller at center and Travis Moen on the wing.
Halpern was one of Montreal's best penalty killers this season and his experience is sure to make the bottom-six that much stronger.
For Boston, Chris Kelly was being evaluated for what appears to be a fractured cheek bone, suffered when he was pushed into the net by Scott Gomez in Game 3. Kelly is scheduled to play regardless, likely with a face shield.
The other change for Boston comes on the power play, where Nathan Horton will be pulled off the first power play unit and replaced by Patrice Bergeron.
In a lot of ways this game comes down to desperation and which team has more of it.
While Montreal needs two more victories to win the series, the Bruins know that a loss tonight will be like a death sentence. As such, they are sure to play with the desperation of a team on the brink of elimination.
Boston needs this win and they know it. Moreover, they know that they have a huge opportunity to turn the series around tonight.
For the Habs, they similarly know how important a win tonight will be. There is a huge difference between going back to Boston for Game 5 tied 2-2 versus up 3-1.
The knock after last game, was that Montreal was nonchalant during the morning skate prior to Game 3. The team wasn't focused enough and perhaps thought the rest of the road would be easy.
As I discussed yesterday, the hope is that Montreal learned their lesson and will come back even more focused on victory. It is because of that fact that I think we are in for one hell of a game tonight.
The table has been set, the pieces are in place and both teams know exactly what they have to do. Now it comes down to who wants it more.
Game time is 7:00 PM.
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/
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