Montreal - May 7, 2014 - Proof that Round One was not a mirage.
As you enjoy the remarkable playoff hockey featuring comeback after comeback and intensity levels no measuring meter can reach, remember who it is that is providing thrill after thrill. And maybe the next time a season is shortened, cut in half or lost entirely because of a labour dispute you'll realize who really owns the game.
• Carey Price. His opening game performance was epic. His save on Milan Lucic in Game Two was as good as any this post season. He put his team in a position to win both games. The Bruins know it's no longer a matter of beting Jimmy Howard or Jonas Gustavsson. Now if Price can just get a little more help, and get a couple of his defensemen out of the way, he might be able to finish writing the great playoff upset story instead of being part of a road block on Boston's way to another Conference Final.
• P.K. Subban. Highest scoring defenseman in the playoffs with 9 points in 6 games. A constant threat every time he has the puck. Bruins' fans hold their breath (when not booing) when the puck lands on P.K.'s stick inside the Boston blue line. Better yet was his response to the knuckle draggers who remind us that evolution was just a theory. Subban should make you proud to be a Montrealer.
• Josh Gorges. Hard to get much love when you're Subban's partner but he's been rock solid. Had a Game Two leading six blocked shots.
• Mike Weaver. Keep waiting for major cracks to appear in Habs' third defense pair. When it did happen it was either on the other side of the ice or when he was on the bench. Has anchored Montreal's perfect penalty killing unit (5-5) led by an inspiring 5 on 3 kill for a full minute early in Game Two.
• Power Play. Firing at 50% (4-8). Critical to Montreal's success especially as Boston continues to try to bully them in an effort to set the tone early, or to put it more bluntly - intimidate. It's led by Subban, of course, but Thomas Vanek's two deflection goals were much needed considering how impotent the Habs' top offensive line has been 5 on 5.
• Lars Eller - Brian Gionta - Rene Bourque. Best line on the ice in Game One. Not very good in Game Two as Boston made some obvious adjustments. Bourque skated well in Saturday's loss and used his body but Gionta & Eller struggled big time.
• Brandon Prust. The fact that he's playing is admirable. But if can't play any better because of injuries (ribs/shoulder) he shouldn't play at all. This a series made for a physical player like Prust. But if he's purposely missing a smaller player like Torey Krug when he has him lined up for a hit behind the net it's because he can't do it. Whatever scoring chances he's had have been easy for Tuukka Rask to stop because Prust can't elevate a shot. The effort is always there from Prust. And maybe the coaching staff feels the team is better off with this popular player at less than 50% than a perfectly healthy Ryan White. But it's hard to imagine him getting much better.
• Max Pacioretty. Had some scoring chances and helped set up a key goal on the power play but needs to take his game to another level. Didn't like the body language early in Game Two when he was crushed into the boards by Zdeno Chara. I know it hurts. But Pacioretty sagged then looked back at the referee. As Claude Julien likes to say, there's a lot of "crap" that goes on at this time of the year. You gotta dig deep and play through it. While players like Pacioretty, Brendan Galagher, David Desharnais, Gionta and now Rene Bourque are obviouus targets it's up to Montreal's bigger forwards to respond physically. Bourque is trying. Dale Weise has got to get in on the act. Maybe Travis Moen gets back in. But Pacioretty has to start using his 6' 2" frame. Not to take himself out of a play. But to create a little more space for himself. And to soften up some of those Boston defensemen. And then it's up to Michel Therrien to try find a way to get Desharnais -Vanek - Pacioretty on the ice when Chara isn't.
• Francis Bouillon. Just unlucky. But wonder if Montreal staff isn't thinking about Jarred Tinordi at this point. They should be.
• Face Offs. Not much the Habs can do about this. They managed to win the opener even though the Bruins dominated (58% - 42%). Plekanec made up or a badly lost draw on the game tying goal by beating Patrice Bergeron on the power play overtime winner. Montreal barely improved Saturday (46%). Through the first two games, Plekanec is at 41%, Desharnais & Eller are 44% and Daniel Briere at 42%. Without an obvious go-to guy Michel Therrien has to pay attention to detail. Important defensive zone face offs, especially late in a period or late in the game shouldn't automatically go to Plekanec.
• Third Period. Again, I don't know if there's much the Habs can do other than to limit the damage. Outscored 7-2 in the third period through the first two games, Montreal is discovering firsthand what Boston has done to the rest of the league this season (Third period goal differential +48. Next best was St. Louis at +22). Saturday's game marked the first time this season the Canadiens lost a game in regulation time after entering the third period with the lead. With the ice so tilted in favour of Boston over the final 20 minutes in each game this is a case where one can actually see the difference between experience and inexperience. You know about the Bruins. Among the Habs who are going through the second round of the playoffs for the first time - Pacioretty, Desharnais, Eller, Bourque, Gallagher, Weise, Bournival, Weaver, and Alexei Emelin. Or nearly half the team.
• Claude Julien. I know Montreal fans would love to see Julien quit the whining, an act as old as the NHL itself. But when Julien took the bench minor penalty after Vanek's goal made it 3-1, the Habs could have buried Boston. Instead it was the Bruins who responded to their coach who was just echoing (loudly) what they were feeling. Julien sees how dangerous the Montreal power play is - again. He also knows his team is going to continue to take penalties. It's part of who they are and what they do. So this "crap" the poor, downtrodden Bruins have to plough through was just a pre-emptive strike before heading into hostile territory. Because as I look back - whether it was the Meszaros penalty on Tomas Plekanec (it could have been interference, holding or roughing), the Miller minor for mugging Gallagher in front of the net, or the Dougie Hamilton interference call on Pacioretty, there wasn't a single penalty that wasn't earned. And it was the Bruins who were the beneficiaries of an early 5 on 3.
• Stephen Harris. This Boston Herald "writer" is renowned around the league for sticking his face into whichever Bruins ass he's standing behind. I get homerism. But he takes it to another level. The definition of a hack. And he's been hacking away for 35 years.
• Banners hanging from the roof of TD Garden. I love all those Celtics championships being displayed - the definition of a true dynasty. And the Bruins Cup wins. But hanging banners for winning the Adams Division? How small do your sticks have to be to honour something as meaningless as that?
• Racism. While the Celtics were winning all those NBA titles in the 1960s (1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969) its best player - Bill Russell - had to endure unspeakable acts of cowardice. The most publicized was when he tried to move into a new home in a mostly white neighborhood. Neighbours got together to sign a petition to try to keep him out. It failed. Then they tried to buy the new home from Russell. That too failed. As Russell's former teammate Tommy Heinsohn once observed, "The guy won two NCAA championships, 50-some college games in a row, the Olympics, then he came to Boston and won 11 championships in 13 years, and they named a fucking tunnel after Ted Williams." Williams' employer - long time Red Sox owner (1933 - 1976) Tom Yawkey - was a racist. Boston was the last MLB team to sign a black player. It wasn't until 1959 - 12 seasons after Jackie Robinson had broken the colour barrier - that Yawkey finally caved and signed infielder Pumpsie Green. Other players of colour were buried in the minors or traded. The forced busing issue of 1974 brought out the worst on both sides. There is a dark underbelly of racism in Boston that cannot be denied. Modernists will tell you it's ancient history. The fact is - it's there. Bubbling under the surface. As the years and decades pass the ugliness gets buried deeper and deeper. But it remains an embarrassment to the good people of a great city. P.K. Subban (and Joel Ward before him) has already heard and experienced the worst of human behaviour - long before he helped beat the Boston Bruins. A few dick heads on twitter only reminds the rest of the world where Boston once was. Not where it's going.
PS - I was at the Bell Centre in 2004 when a "fan" threw a banana on the ice during a stoppage in a Montreal - Carolina match up. The goaltender for Carolina that day was Kevin Weekes.
Mitch Melnick is the host of Melnick in the Afternoon on TSN 690 - Montreal's Sports Authority. Mitch also has his own website at MitchMelnick.com where you can find his blog, music links, upcoming events, neat photos and more. Listen Live to Melnick - weekdays from 3:00 - 7:00 pm. If you have questions or wish to contact Mitch, you can email him at email@example.com
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