Daily Hab-it: Seeing past the illusion
Benoit Pouliot drops to the ice after contact with Boston Bruins defenceman Johnny Boychuk Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Published Monday, March 7, 2011 1:47AM EST
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 3:10AM EDT
It's finally here.
The game everyone in Montreal has been waiting for since witnessing the carnage that was the Beatdown in Beantown back on Feb. 9, an 8-6 win by the Boston Bruins that seemingly caused an immediate chemical imbalance to take hold in the large majority of Canadiens fans.
Based on that one game, the book was apparently out on these Canadiens. No longer would they be able to prance around the ice at will because everyone would simply beat them into submission. Why wouldn't they, after seeing how well the Bruins used intimidation and thuggery to beat them, even though the Canadiens lack of size and toughness has been a league-wide punchline for two years?
And furthermore, in order to prevent these teams from using the Bruins ingenious blueprint every night, Pierre Gauthier should have sold the farm to bring in a bunch of muscle men to match this formidable opponent the Bruins have become.
How could he not? Did he see Tom Pyatt's face? Or Jaroslav Spacek's? How can Gauthier leave these poor souls unprotected like this?
Gauthier, to his credit, did nothing of the sort, and with the re-match slated for Tuesday night at the Bell Centre (as if you didn't know) get ready to listen to all sorts of talking heads and experts talk about how the Canadiens need to call in reinforcements to match the Bruins muscle in this game. Alex Henry, Jimmy Bonneau, Andrew Conboy, anyone. Just make sure there's a guy in the lineup who can fight, because it will be so very important in this game.
Master of illusion
You want to know why the Canadiens really lost that game in Boston? It's because they gave up eight goals. It's because they forgot how to play defence. It's because Scott Gomez had perhaps the worst game of his career, at least the Montreal portion of it. Losing fights had little, if anything, to do with it.
But because the brawls, the petting contest between Carey Price and Tom Thomas, and the Original Six rivalry between the two teams dominated the storyline coming out of this game, a lot of the little details of it were forgotten.
For instance, the first period was pretty clean, intense and physical, but clean. A dustup at the final buzzer before the first intermission foreshadowed what was to come, but the Bruins skated, hit, passed and shot their way to a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes.
The moment where the time machine was revved up and we were all brought back to the 1970's, just after the midway point of the second period, came when it was already 5-3 Bruins. And as I pointed out in my game blog back then, Gomez was not only on the ice for four of those goals, he played a prominent role in allowing each one of them to happen.
So, having already pumped five goals in the net and playing against a team that seemingly had no clue defensively on this night, why wouldn't the Bruins throw caution to the wind and exact some degree of revenge for what has been an escalating mountain of frustration against the Canadiens? With the physical advantage of their regular lineup, wouldn't you do the same?
Time to focus on what matters
While a lot of people in this city and beyond who care about the Canadiens and whose pride was bruised watching the Bruins have their way with their team want to feel the satisfaction of retribution, they should realize to what extent Bruins fans have been feeling the exact same thing for generations. The reaction of the Bruins players that night in February was probably more linked to recent history, but for the fans there it was a whole lot more than that.
Except if I'm Jacques Martin, my message to my team is to focus on the reasons behind the Bruins' frustration that night. Why were they so eager to pound on you guys? What made them, their fans, and even some of their media so enraged by your very existence?
Well, how about this? The core group of this Canadiens team, since the beginning of last season, had beaten the Bruins eight of the previous nine times they played heading into that Feb. 9 game. That is some great tonic for frustration to build up, and it's actually somewhat shocking it took that long to come spewing out from the Bruins.
How did the Canadiens beat them? With speed, with sound defence, with good goaltending, with strong special teams and a myriad of other factors.
Just one time, one game, the Canadiens were unable to use those strengths to their advantage, and they got burned. Then, with the game pretty well under control, the Bruins took advantage of the situation to release some of their demons.
But if the Canadiens were to call up a tough guy to play in that one game Tuesday night – and I use the word "play" very lightly – to respond to that supposed affront to the team's pride, what message does that send to your players? That your victories in eight of the previous nine meetings mean nothing? That you're a bunch of pansies?
And what if, say, Alex Henry is brought in and beats the living daylights out of Shawn Thornton, or Gregory Campbell, or whoever, what do you do the next time? What do you do March 24 in Boston, do you "play" him again with playoff positioning on the line? Or what do you do if you meet the Bruins in the playoffs? Is Alex Henry suddenly a fixture on your bench?
No. He isn't.
Trust your own identity
The Canadiens are not a team that can bring in one tough guy and suddenly consider themselves on an equal plane of toughness with the Bruins, whose supposed tough guys actually play a pretty regular shift and contribute when their gloves are on as well as they do when they're off. That's the Bruins identity, that's how they're built, always has been.
But both historically and recently, that identity has failed in a match-up with the Canadiens traditional identity centred on speed and skill, though the current one is more built around goaltending and defence.
That point needs to be made clear to the players sitting in the Canadiens dressing room just prior to puck drop Tuesday night, that they don't need to change a thing, what they do works just fine against these guys. If the Canadiens score four power play goals like they did back on Feb. 9, I'll make the bold prediction they will win the game. And if the Bruins want to give them the opportunity to do that, I say go ahead and let them.