Engels Angle: Anything can happen, but it won't
Published Monday, April 18, 2011 11:09AM EDT
MONTREAL - You can imagine that Claude Julien and most of the Bruins must have been cringing when David Krejci went on record to guarantee a win for his team in Game Two. Whatever energy he was hoping to provide for his teammates transferred straight to the opposing dressing room and Krejci and those he spoke for were left with egg on their faces.
Without Zdeno Chara, it seemed painfully clear that the Bruins were a genetically altered team. They couldn't find the edge they were looking for and although both coaches will admit these contests have been tightly contested, Montreal has been in the driver-seat since the puck dropped on Thursday's game.
I've heard a lot of analysis about how the Bruins have failed to incorporate their style in this series and I must amend it to say that they have, but haven't been successful with it. And though most would argue that the regular season has no bearing on the outcome of any playoff series, it seems to be quite relevant in this one. Did the Bruins fail to incorporate their style in the other four losses the Canadiens dished them this season?
Those two games the Bruins won with brute force - which everyone placed the onus on in handicapping the Canadiens' chances before this started - are looking more and more like aberrations. And yet, if the Bruins are to look for some source of motivation, they'll still be caught scouring those game tapes for some degree of evidence that they had the Habs figured out.
The Canadiens needn't look far behind for evidence to the contrary.
Boy, do these Bruins need a lead! They haven't held one all series and without establishing an early one in this game, they could be looking at an insurmountable task.
Don't get me wrong, anything can happen.
We're a year removed from the Canadiens erasing a two-game deficit against the Capitals, inevitably stamping their ticket to the next round of the playoffs, with overwhelming momentum thrusting them past the Pittsburgh Penguins, despite facing elimination once more.
We're just days removed from everyone and their mother claiming that the Canadiens didn't stand a chance of winning both games in Boston, let alone one.
There's no question that anything can happen but you get the feeling in this case that it won't.
Do the Bruins have a plan B? Do they have the patience to stick with plan A? Will plan A be enough to get them back in this series?
Could the Bruins be entering a more hostile environment than the one they'll be in over the next few days?
Boston remain accomplished road warriors
Getting back to the relevance of the regular season, it's been argued since Saturday night that the Bruins are a better road-team than home-team. The numbers don't lie; they held the fifth-best road record in the league this season but they were 14th-best at home.
But the Canadiens held the 19th-best road record and took both games in Boston. The Habs were 7th-best at home but the only other Eastern Conference team with a better home-record was Washington. All of that is relevant ahead of tonight's match-up.
And it's not as if the Bruins are in a spot where they can come to Montreal and play pressure-free hockey, now that the Canadiens are favoured to win this series. The Bruins entered this series with the expectation that they would erase last season's miserable implosion that saw them relinquish a 3-0 series advantage over the Philadelphia Flyers, and that they would be able to do it against a bitter rival that no one in Boston really believes is their equal. If anything, they're under much greater pressure than what they faced before this series got started.
Claude Julien could feel the gazes of disapproval in Cam Neely and Peter Chiarelli's eyes, as the Bruins dropped their advantage over Montreal in Boston. And he's facing the kind of pressure no coach wants to be under at this time of the year, knowing that if his Bruins fail the test against Montreal, he'll be the one held accountable.
In the meantime, it's not as if Jacques Martin and his Canadiens stole those games. Martin abused Julien despite the latter's advantage, and that's what makes Boston's task that much steeper ahead of tonight's game.
Taking the focus off the Bruins for a moment, one must question whether or not the Canadiens have the fortitude to deliver the swift coup this home-ice opportunity affords them. Can they be Julien and Boston's executioner?
Will the Habs be overconfident?
You have to believe that the same experience-factor that sealed them two victories in Boston will prevail in Montreal. You have to believe that anything can happen but in this case, the Habs won't allow it to.
The Bruins have to win four of the next five games to save their season. They'll need to take two of three games to be played in Montreal and if it's not two in a row, their odds are as long as could possibly be. And the Bruins don't have too many cards left to play.
Tyler Seguin could be an option for tonight's game, but is the catalyst to a Bruins turnaround?
Tuukka Rask dethroned Tim Thomas last season but could the Bruins possibly entertain the option of shelving the likely winner of this year's Vezina trophy for a guy that lost five more games than he won this season?
If the Bruins are going anywhere but down in this one, they'll need to do it with the same game-plan they've tried, but failed, to execute in the first two games. If they're to make this a series, it'll have to be on Tim Thomas' shoulders and on the performances of players like Lucic, Horton and Krejci, who have yet to punch their scorecards in the post-season. At this stage, all of that is far more questionable than the Canadiens' chances of finishing them off.