Confidence is an integral part of winning in any sport. Sometimes it is fleeting, but for those who push through a wall to win, it tends to be unwavering. The Montreal Canadiens, who pulled out a 2-1 regulation decision over the Boston Bruins last night, seem to have this kind of confidence.
So with the win, this classic playoff battle between two bitter original-six rivals will now go to Game 7 tonight in Boston. The decisive game will be played at TD Garden with the winner moving on to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
So I guess I was wrong with my original prediction; the Boston Bruins won't win this series in six after all. I can't say I'm disappointed with the outcome either, but the Bruins surely are.
Watching the postgame interviews, the Bruins seemed like a totally demoralized, utterly defeated team. And this despite there still being one game left to play in the series.
I found this strange, too, since they are still very much alive and it really is anyone's game tonight. Yet from the coach down to the captain, the body language and verbiage were those of a team that feels they lost the series last night.
Final score: Habs 2 - Bruins 1
Habs scorers: Mike Cammalleri (3), Brian Gionta (3
Bruins scorers: Dennis Seidenberg (1)
Three stars: 1. Michael Cammalleri, 2. Carey Price, 3. Brian Gionta
Looking back to post-Game 5 interviews, the Canadiens were also disheartened but that was after double-overtime loss. And despite the loss, Montreal was still spouting positivity and talking about how the series wasn't over.
You didn't hear any of that from the Bruins last night.
What you did hear was a team that sounded like they had just been eliminated from the playoffs. Whereas the Bs have had a bounce in their step through Games 3, 4 and 5, they look like they had fallen back into self-doubt last night.
And, as was the case during Games 1 and 2, Coach Julien was agitated, uncomfortable and annoyed while doing his postgame press conference. His frustration was ironically most palpable while explaining how the Bruins are/were not frustrated by the Canadiens.
So with the quick turnaround—the puck drops on Game 7 tonight at 7 p.m.—the question now becomes which team is mentally tougher.
It's a matter of pride
Last night, Montreal played like a team who wanted the win. As I suggested they would before the game, this team's veteran core stood up and led the Habs to victory in what was a true team effort.
Michael Cammalleri was once again the Habs' best skater, scoring a power-play goal on a wicked one-knee blast. Paul Mara looked real good on the back end, filling in for injured James Wisniewski. Yannick Weber did an acceptable job on the fourth line. Brian Gionta scored the winner on the power play and, despite letting in a soft goal, Carey Price was the difference maker.
Overall, the Habs did exactly what they had to do to force a Game 7. As such, they will certainly be brimming with confidence but eternally aware of the task at hand.
But how will the Bruins respond?
This is a team that looked primed for a sweep after two games, that was happy with its play after five and which again looked completely defeated last night. Whereas the Habs have done a great job of not getting too high or low, Boston is having difficulty finding that mental middle-ground.
If Boston is not able to refocus quickly, their fragility could end up being their undoing tonight.
Teams play all year for home-ice advantage in the playoffs for exactly these kinds of situations. I am just wondering if the weight of expectation is going to crush the Bruins.
A quick goal by Montreal and this one could be over in a hurry.
Referee Chris Lee is an infamous NHL referee.
Like Carey Fraser before him, Lee is known more for blowing big calls than anything else. And watching him and his team do their thing last night, you can see why.
The number of marginal and missed calls by Lee and his team where through the roof and directly influenced the outcome of the game. Montreal even got two, yes two, 5-on-3 power plays converting on both to win the game.
As for botched calls, there was a phantom goaltender interference penalty on Patrice Bergeron early in the first period, where Bergeron made only incidental contact with Price. There was a two-minute minor to Chris Kelly for high sticking Travis Moen, even though Moen was bleeding—when a player is bleeding, it is an automatic four-minute penalty.
There was a blindside hit from Milan Lucic on Jaroslav Spacek, which only resulted in a game misconduct after they saw the blood streaming down Spacek's face. And, worst of all, there was an early whistle—this time by Kevin Pollack—in the first period where Tim Thomas failed to cover the puck and Gionta put the rebound into the empty net.
The goal was disallowed and the only good thing is that the Habs ended up winning the game. If not, the entire hockey world would be set ablaze this morning.
Needless to say, these two refs will not be in the Stanley Cup final, but why they are in the playoffs at all is a mystery to me.
Ugliness of the night
There was actually a lot of ugliness last night.
From the early whistle that nullified a Gionta goal to Lars Eller tangling with Adam McQuaid, falling to the ice and looking like either his shoulder or elbow was dislocated, there was plenty to go around.
But Milan Lucic took the ugliness cake at 4:37 of the second period when he hammered Spacek into the boards. Spacek had his back turned to Lucic and his head got crunched against the rigid Bell Centre glass.
Looking at the replay you can see that it was a classic blindside hit with Lucic nailing Spacek right in the numbers.
Spacek fell to the ice and took a few minutes before getting up, blood streaming from his forehead and being led to the dressing room. Fortunately, after a few stitches he seemed no worse for wear and was back in the game.
Lucic received a five-minute major for boarding and a game misconduct.
Many are saying this morning that Lucic does not deserve any supplemental punishment, but I feel that given the blindside nature of the hit, Lucic should be suspended for at least one game. That being said, I am fully aware that he will not receive any further discipline. His hit was bad but not worse than Mike Richards on Tim Connolly or Bryan Bickell's hit on Kevin Bieksa.
And neither Richards nor Bickell were suspended for those hits, so Lucic isn't going anywhere.
...this is it
Tonight, this immensely entertaining first-round series between the Bruins and Canadiens comes to an end. And what an end it'll be!
This will mark the 13th time these teams have played each other since the start of the regular season, with Montreal holding a 7-5 win advantage. It's slight, to be sure, but so is the margin between wins and losses in this series.
I expect tonight to be no different with a tight, intense battle for the win.
The biggest X-factor, however, is the mental make-up of the Boston Bruins. Are they as fragile as they look and will that ultimately be their undoing? Or can they cowboy-up, to steal a Carey Price-ism and get the job done?
All of the pressure is once again on their shoulders and the crowd will be ravenous for a win. Still I have my doubts that Boston can get it done. To me, this is the Canadiens game and series to lose tonight, and I don't imagine they will.
However, with two games in 24 hours, you really have to throw convention out the window. With no time to rest, recuperate or recover from the win or loss and refocus for tonight's game, anything really can happen.
I originally called the Bruins winning this series in six games, but after they tied it at two, I felt it would go seven with Montreal winning. While I'm no Nostradamus, I still have a quiet confidence in the Habs' chances tonight, much like the team itself does.
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 to 9 a.m. Listen live at http://www.team990.com/
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