The Habs have a beautiful game. Go ahead and argue about what makes a team ‘best’, certainly that’s a qualitative debate open to many different perspectives, but I defy you to find a more consistently elegant game being played by any other team in the League. Not just elegant in the sense of aesthetically pleasing, but elegant in the sense that physicists might use the term- their play is a balanced equation that synthesizes speed, toughness, and intelligence in an uncannily efficient and perversely obvious manner.
At least, against the Bruins it is. Every time we play them, I am astounded at the extent to which the Canadiens’ style dictates the game. We are the machine, they are the hapless would-be saboteurs. I was looking for reasons to worry tonight. The 8-0 regular season sweep means nothing, yeah? This is the playoffs. Surely
I was looking for reasons to worry, and I found none. It was just like a Habs-Bruins game in the regular season, only more so. We outrun them, and they get thwacky. We out-thwack them, and they get surly, and then we just tune them out. They sit back and wait for us to make mistakes, but we don’t make enough mistakes and they’re too slow to exploit the ones we do. We just keep coming, line after line, shift after shift, and no matter how many rushes they break up, we’re always there on the rebound. And then the game ends, and all over
1. An aggressive but not particularly transgressive game from either side. There was a lot of hitting, and a lot of gabbing, and a lot of after-the-whistle shoving, but surprisingly little violent acrimony given the lopsidedness of the play. However, the refs did seem particularly zealous in breaking up those cozy little inter-team chats that have a way of starting when somebody’s goalie gets knocked around. Could it be that the NHL is looking for a scandal-free postseason?
2. Rookies are supposed to be nervous and unsteady in the playoffs, but apparently the Kostitsyn brothers haven’t gotten that memo yet. They opened the scoring with two goals within the first three minutes of play, as if they just couldn’t wait to get those first NHL playoff points. However, I was almost more impressed with how composed they- and the rest of the Habs’ kiddie-corps- were for the duration. Plekanec was the only one who struck me as maybe a little unprepared, in that there were a few plays where he didn’t seem to realize that at this time of year even the Bruins aren’t going to give him the luxury of enough time for the ideal set-up. But one thing I’ve learned about Pleks this year is that he’s the hockey equivalent of Guy Pearce in Memento- he just doesn’t remember, every shift is a completely clean slate. Shake him up, knock him off-rhythm for one play, it doesn’t have the slightest effect on how he’ll come out the next time around.
3. Both Hamrlik and Smolinski are among the longest-serving NHLers without a Cup. If this game is any indication, that’s some kinda motivation, because they were easily the two most compelling veteran performers of the night (Kovalev aside, but he’s always a one-man compulsion). Hamrlik was everywhere, doing everything- shooting, hitting, blocking shots, making char siu, tutoring underprivileged Estonian children in calculus, inventing an amphibious helicopter, and setting a Czech record in the hundred-meter breaststroke… I’m exaggerating. But only slightly.
4. Alright, Price did let in a bad goal. But the way the D was playing in front of him, he didn’t need to be spectacular, just solid, and that he certainly was. Hopefully, however, knowing that that shot cost him a shutout will be motivating for the boy.
5. I’m going to try to refrain from making negative comments, because there really isn’t anything worth being negative about, but I will say that I’m getting a scary thinking-too-much-in-all-the-wrong-ways vibe off Ryder. I like him better when he plays a more reflexive, instinctual game; also, any line featuring Higgins has plenty of overthinking going on already. (Not criticizing Higgy- his anxiety makes him what he is).
6. I keep thinking that Thomas is working some kind of crazy deception tactic by letting in all these five-hole goals- like he’s trying to trick opponents into focusing all their shots there and then at some opportune moment he’ll clamp shut like a Mormon schoolmarm and we won’t know what to do. But no, apparently he really does just have a slow groin. Poor guy.
One down, fifteen to go. In spite of this performance, I fully expect the Bruins to come out harder on Saturday- or more accurately, I hope they do. Weirdly enough, I don’t think a first round sweep would be good for the Habs. The real test of this team, I believe, is going to be the game they play after their first playoff loss. I’d almost prefer that game happen sooner against
[Please excuse my even-more-egregious-than-usual use of the first person plural pronoun to describe the Canadiens. In my defense, 1) it’s easier to write when you can use different pronouns for the two teams- ‘we’ and ‘they’ as opposed to ‘they (Habs)’ and ‘they (Bruins)’; and 2) I’m a Habs fan. We’re crazy like that.]