Momentum is an interesting thing in the world of professional sports.
When you don't have it, you want it and when you have it, you guard it. But sometimes—and perhaps far too often—when a team has it, they can take it for granted.
That is when momentum can become dangerous.
After the Montreal Canadiens skated out to a 2-0 lead in their first-round playoff series against the Boston Bruins, they had all the momentum in the world.
But that picture has changed significantly in the last four days.
Boston won Game 3 in Montreal, and the teams faced off last night for their biggest match of the season. A pivotal Game 4 in Montreal where the Habs would jump out to 1-0, 3-1 and 4-3 leads before ultimately losing 5-4 in overtime.
The win clearly swings momentum to the Bruins, with the series returning to Boston for Game 5 on Saturday night. But this game, in a lot of ways, was a microcosm of the series so far.
Final score: Bruins 5 - Habs 4 (OT)
Habs scorers: Brent Sopel (1), Mike Cammalleri (2), Andrei Kostitsyn (2), P.K. Subban (1)
Bruins scorers: Michael Ryder (1, 2), Andrew Ference (1), Patrice Bergeron (2), Chris Kelly (2)
Three stars: 1. Michael Ryder 2. Michael Cammalleri 3. P.K. Subban
60 minutes anyone?
Through four games, neither team has been able to put in a full 60-minute effort.
As such, the ball of momentum has been passed back and forth between the two teams as they trade chances, mistakes and wins.
Last night was no different with Montreal playing their best, most dominant 20-minutes of the season in the first period. The problem was that while Montreal outshot Boston 15-8, they went to the dressing room with a measly 1-0 lead.
That just isn't good enough.
By the time Andrei Kostitsyn scored the Canadiens third of the game—his second of the playoffs—Montreal was outshooting Boston 29-12.
After that goal, however, the Canadiens managed only one more shot in the period with the shot count 30-22 after two and the score tied at three.
Where's the defense?
For two teams that pride themselves on a defense-first mentality, they both left much to be desired.
Boston's defensive unit hasn't looked particularly good at any point during this series, while the Canadiens' have oscillated between being really good and really bad.
Last night was no different as Montreal used their speed to overwhelm Boston's defense for a good half of the game. After that, it was the Bruins turn to make the Canadiens' D look like house-leaguers.
With both teams abandoning their usual defensive schemes, the game became wide open and resembled the Bruins 8-6 defeat of the Habs a few months ago. Both goalies were left to their own devices as the teams in front of them showed horrible gap control, missed assignment and failed to clear players from in front of their nets.
The result was a back-and-forth goal-scoring bonanza of sorts, where no lead was safe and the goalies too often were made to look bad.
Really exciting for the fans, but the type of game the coaches hate!
Something tells me we won't soon be seeing a repeat of last night's game any time soon.
A word on goaltending
Let's be honest here, both teams seem to have the opposing goaltender figured out. During the third period intermission last night, CBC showed the shooting tendencies of both teams and it was clear they knew how to score.
Montreal continues to shoot low, hard shots from an angle that force Tim Thomas to kick out huge rebounds. The hope is for a Canadiens player to then pot these rebounds into the empty net. That worked well over the first two games but Montreal missed too many of those chances last night.
For Boston, they are going high glove side, and they beat Carey Price a few times like that last night. Both Michael Ryder and Andrew Ference's goals went top shelf, glove side on Price.
Shades of the Flyers a few years ago?
As nervous and unstable as Thomas has looked for much of the series, he has outplayed Price over the last two games and that's been the difference. Last night, despite his flopping around on the ice, Thomas made several key saves that kept the Bruins in the game.
The best example was just before the overtime winning goal, where Thomas came way out of the blue paint to stop a point-blank scoring chance. Shortly after the save the puck went up the other way and the Bruins scored the winner.
As I said before the series started, if Montreal is going to win Price has to be the best goalie on the ice. He was in Games 1 and 2, but has not hit the mark in 3 and 4.
The Habs forwards
Michael Cammalleri and David Desharnais were two of the best Habs skaters last night.
Cammalleri in particular, who did not have a great regular season, is showing once again that he is a true playoff performer. Quietly he has taken the scoring lead with seven points (2G, 5A) in four games, and he is the clear offensive leader for Montreal.
As for Desharnais, he was quick, combative and causing problems for Boston all night. One shift, in particular, epitomized the kind of night he had when he went into the corner with Zdeno Chara, and came out with the puck.
On another 1-on-1 battle, Desharnais actually pinned Chara along the boards until a teammate could pick up the puck.
Talk about David and Goliath!
This guy seems to be feeding off the energy of veteran players—like Brian Gionta—and flanked by Tom Pyatt and Ryan White, forming an excellent trio for Montreal. All three are solid defensively and with White hitting everything that moves and Desharnais and Pyatt using their speed, they caused a lot of havoc for the Bruins' defenders.
The Bergeron line
If players like Zdeno Chara and Milan Lucic aren't leading the charge for Boston as expected, the line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Mark Recchi has picked up the slack. Marchand, without a doubt, had been the Bruins' best forward all series.
He is fast, gritty, a huge pain in the butt and a legitimate offensive threat. Last night, along with linemates Bergeron and Recchi, this line went to work in the second period when all hope seemed lost for Boston.
After Andrei Kostitsyn made it 3-1 7:47 into the second, Bruins' coach Claude Julien called a timeout. The extra time seemed to calm the Bruins, allowing them to refocus and go after Montreal.
A strange shot from the point by Ference made it 3-2 at 9:59 in the second, handing the momentum over to Boston. Then, at 17:04, Marchand picked up a Dennis Seidenberg rebound and passed it under Price to Bergeron, who fired it into the gaping net.
Montreal only managed one shot on goal after the Bruins' timeout, with Bergeron and Marchand leading the offensive charge. It's amazing to think the Bruins have been having success off of the backs of their second, and not their first line.
So far, the Habs have no answer for the Bergeron line, proof positive by Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez both finishing the night at minus-3 while trying to shut them down.
The winning goal
If there is one thing we have seen through four games, it's that these two teams are very evenly matched. As such, the margin between winning and losing is minuscule.
So then, it's no real surprise that the game went to overtime last night.
As with the rest of this series, last night's game was decided by a mistake and opportunistic scoring.
Less than two minutes into overtime, Travis Moen had the puck on the left boards and needed to dump it into the corner for a line change. But for some reason, he tried to pass it across to Gomez on the other side of the ice instead.
The problem is that he was the only one who knew he was going to do that.
As such, Brian Gionta and P.K. Subban were already headed to the bench for a change. So when the puck was turned over and the play headed back up the ice, Jaroslav Spacek was the only Canadien back to defend the subsequent 3-on-1.
With Montreal scrambling to get back, Michael Ryder—who scored two on the night—was left all alone in front to put the puck past a sprawling Price for the winner.
The winning goal was scored on a comedy of errors by Montreal in a game they could have—and probably should have—won.
Ladies and gentleman, we have a new series. A best-of-three shootout with Boston again holding home-ice advantage and the expectation of victory.
While the momentum has clearly shifted to the Bruins I don't expect them to win four straight against Montreal. Boston has yet to play well in their own building and the pressure, once again, is squarely on their shoulders.
I originally thought that Boston would win this series in six, but I now see this one going the distance instead. I can see the Bs winning Game 5, Montreal taking Game 6 and the whole thing being decided in a winner-takes-all Game 7 in Beantown.
While many are saying that the loss last night means the series is over for Montreal, I don't buy it. If the Habs have shown one thing this year, it's a tremendous resilience.
These guys can bounce back from anything, do not have a fragile mental makeup and have a veteran core who has been there before.
They'll shake off the back-to-back losses and bring a solid effort in Boston.
Despite this being a 2-2 series, I would say that Montreal has dominated larger stretches of play than the Bruins. The difference has been opportunistic scoring from Boston and key saves from Thomas.
Its now Montreal's turn to play that same card.
Game 5 is set for Saturday in Boston, and what a game it should be!
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/