Habs Fever: Experience trumps all
Published Monday, April 18, 2011 11:28AM EDT
The playoffs are about so many things, but over the years there are patterns that keep repeating.
There's a checklist of aspects that you have to be better than your opposition to win a best of seven.
Perhaps the number one overriding factor is goaltending. It is certainly an easy argument to make in Montreal where the last two playoff years have seen some of the best statistics ever. Jaroslav Halak's .978 in games 5, 6, 7, of the Washington series last year is the best goaltending performance I have witnessed in a series in person. This year Carey Price is carrying the torch and holding it high and proving that the organization evaluates talent extremely well in keeping the question mark from last year who has turned into an exclamation mark this season.
Thomas looks nervous
It is not though just that Price has been a rock this series. It is also that his counterpart Tim Thomas is handling the puck like the moment is psychologically too big for him. There is an anxiety in all that Thomas is doing. It reminds one of Martin Gerber a long time ago when Bob Gainey delivered his famous line "We seem to be facing a goalie who doesn't want to be in there". Sadly, for the Habs the Hurricanes changed their goalie to Cam Ward and the rest is their glorious history.
This is not to say that Gerber is in the same class as Thomas. That is unfair to the probable Vezina winner this year. However, Thomas must have saved five with his chin in game two. His rebound control is way off. He had trouble catching floating thirty footers. It looks like fear. It is so hard to control the mind sometimes as an athlete. This series has one goalie beating back demons and the other totally at peace.
Dedication and courage
That is just one aspect. Another is dedication and courage. Again the Habs are clear winners. It is often said that a player is courageous when he drops the gloves, but the real dedication in the first two games is coming through with hits taken to make plays and shots blocked. Gionta blocking anything. Cammalleri taking one off the laces. When the scorers are ready to play like the muckers, then you got something brewing.
The series winner is also almost always the more disciplined team. It is not a joy to turn the other cheek when you get a slash or a punch, but when you do, and the other team takes another penalty, there is a reward for it. In game two, the reward was the winning goal on the ensuing powerplay.
And what about the example of discipline the moment after the buzzer goes to signal the second period ending and Milan Lucic cross checks PK Subban across the back. Subban goes down, but he does not even give Lucic the satisfaction of turning around. He calmly skates to the locker room. The Bruins would dearly love to get Subban off his game, but this kid barely out of his teens won't be goaded.
Experience wins games
And that brings us to the final point on what usually produces a series winner and the aspect of playoff hockey that seems to be trumping all and that is experience.
The Bruins lack of it and the Habs abundance of it. The Habs with five members of the playoff squad having won cups and understanding how to elevate their game and providing lessons on how to handle intensely stressful moments. Gill, Sopel, Gomez, Gionta and Moen are passing on all of their experience to the young on the team. They're letting all of them know exactly what it takes.
As strong as the Habs leadership group has been, even more telling is the Bruins searching for their leaders. Horton who looked so powerful in the two regular season games only looks frustrated. Too many players really who are doing a lot well, but not finding a way. Brad Marchand seems to be the only player who gets it so far. Lucic was very good in game two, but there were so many distracting moments too when he just put too much energy in being angry. That angst needs to be used driving to the net, not cross checking in the back.
This is only two games and the series is not done. The Habs have blown two 2-0 leads in the last 15 years including the painful one to Carolina in 2006 when Saku Koivu got injured to turn the series.
There are many miles to travel before the Bruins pride is beaten down.
Montreal will be rocking on Monday and it will be rocking even more at 10 PM if the Bruins can't figure out how to breakdown Carey Price. They wanted to get to the blue paint, but the Habs fronting has been too good.
It is up to Claude Julien to figure out a way to stop Price from seeing the first shot. If you don't screen him, then he is going to stop it. His rebound control is so spectacular, I am not even sure that rebounds are going to help because Price is controlling them so well.
If they don't crash Price soon, they're going to crash and burn.
But remember Koivu's injury from 2006 and how a leader lost can change momentum, before you put the series in the bag.
It can happen. But so far it is only happening to the Chara-less Bruins.
Read Arpon Basu's blog Daily Hab-it: Will Canadiens find weakness in position of strength?