Location: Tampa Bay
Habs Goalie: Price (W)
Opposition Goalie: Lindback (L)
Habs goalscorers: Desharnais, Bourque (2), Gallagher
Opposition goalscorers: Purcell
Once again, I thought there was a lot of choice for this play. That's the playoffs, the series pivots on so many points. The play that is sticking with me the day after, though, is that gorgeous effort from Rene Bourque. Which one? Well the first one, of course. It sums up very well the advantages the Canadiens have enjoyed over the Lightning so far: easy clearances, spring-loaded counter attack, speed and danger from unexpected places. Most credit has to go to Bourque, as he had so much left to do after a simple, yet perfect pass from Vanek. The confidence and skill to split the defence surprised everyone, most of the audience included. And his composure to make Lindback the puckless pokechecker on the play was impressive. This is a goal that will live in highlights for this playoff year and maybe beyond. Even the non-hockey fans in my house stood out of their seats for the spectacle.
Rene Bourque - Game PuckIt must be the heavy air down in Tampa, because rarely have we seen Rene Bourque so charged. The game started on a good note for him with an early 100 foot pass to Gionta on the break. When it was his turn to shoot he turned the screws on Tampa with the second and fourth goals of the night. As I mentioned above, he embodies part of Montreal strength -- a possibly anonymous player that Tampa can no longer just ignore. He and Eller will give fits to a Tampa coaching staff looking to simplify the brief for their players. Their line, with Gionta, was the most used at even strength. These players are answering the playoff previews that insisted they must be there for the Habs to succeed.
Brendan GallagherSpeaking of players key to success, Gallagher is near the top of lists like that. It is rare that I go through a game without praise for Gallagher. It seems that at key moments, he is often performing key actions. Last night was no different. The player that never gives up for any excuse was out there all evening doing what his team needed. On paper, he is now playing on the line that must counter Tampa's best. In practice, it is Tampa who has had the more frequent worries. Two things in particular stood out for me with Brendan in this contest. The first, his discipline. I'll note that many a player would have retaliated for far less than the punishment he receives. This seems to not only give him more time to concentrate on helping his team in more tangible ways, but also to take the sting out of the inevitable playoff provocation game. Second, his offence. Four attempts on met and on the ice for 13, his line outdid the big guns of Tampa. His goal was all--Gallagher, from nowhere a second effort with a killer shot.
Thomas VanekVanek's world class play for Montreal is making a big difference nearly every shift he steps on the ice. I waxed lyrical last time about the little things he can do, and he was doing them all again in this one. He feeds my appreciation for ice and puck time management as he opens spaces with little tweaks of shoulders and shifts in skate blades. The record in this one will show that Vanek had a good game among many on the Habs. His mere presence on the team is ensuring those other good performances at the moment -- by sheer distraction if nothing else.
Andrei MarkovThey don't call this guy the General for nothing. By his example, by his passes and by his words (we wondered in 2002 if he ever would speak) he is the leader. Favourite of Therrien to counter Tampa's primary threat, he did so in a quiet, yet masterfully effective way. After goals went behind Lindback, one at times wondered if Tampa would even find ice more than 3 feet away from the boards. It is exciting to see Markov turn in a defensive game like this. An honest assessment is that there have been few like these since the reconstruction of knees. But his adaptation to a loss in speed and agility is showing. He's now one of those wily veterans that makes life difficult most of the time.
PK SubbanI wonder if those Canadian watching the only northern-based outfit will take time to reconsider their Sportscentre-made views of PK after watching some of this series. The idea of a glory-seeking, selfish and one asset defender is far from what is on display. Happy to take a back seat to the General and play whatever role the wins require, he impresses in new ways. His pass to Desharnais on the PP was all his offensive literacy on display. For most of the rest of the game, it was his investment in seeing the 2-0 series lead hold that shone.
Carey PriceThe first period of this game signalled to players and fans of both teams that Carey Price was not going to descend into some playoff quagmire. While his own teammates were working out the new Tampa approach, he was tasked with making sure their mountain to climb would be gentle (eventually level). The confidence he gave his team to go forward was his biggest contribution of the night. He soaked it then in the gravy of stunning saves that deflated the comeback hopes of the home team. The new Carey Price even showed his even deeper focus as a shutout lost meant as little to him as a win in September. The reserved celebration at the sweep of an road stand reveals the depth to which his playoff ambitions have grown. Hope to see lots more of the same.
Boxscores with bite
Thanks to the readers that found the first review. it's nice to make our re-acquaintance. What a pleasure it is to sit here and write for you all on an unexpected 2-game lead on Easter weekend.
We must be most impressed with the team that we follow. Many of the elements that we'd hoped would come together have and in quite some style. The depth up front, the constant threat of offense, the structure in defense, the clean management of shots. These are all giving Tampa Bay fits as they must struggle again to find answers.
I must say I am also comforted to hear the sober words of Michel Therrien who continues to take things one game at a time. Beyond the cliche of the statement is a truth, one that Montreal teams and fans of the past can certainly attest. A 2-0 series lead is not a series win. Not by any means. The Bruins and Hurricanes of recent memory have shown us how close an exit door can be from this lead. The Canadiens used this method to oust the Nordiques in confident style in 1993.
I don't mean to be pessimistic, merely cautious in optimism. Tampa will now be forced to adjust in bigger ways than playing 7 defencemen. And I believe it will require some answer from the Habs and, probably more importantly, their coaches. If I was to say adaptation has not been a strength of this regime, I think some would agree. It is now time to show that lesson is learned.
If I were to guess what the adaptation might be, I'd suggest the tried and true method of intimidation. If tapes are reviewed, it will be noted that Canadiens forwards have had the freedom of the Tampa crease and the neutral zone. I expect a commitment to take these away. But Montreal has shown it can overwhelm in many ways. While Desharnais and co. dominate in a more traditional way, Eller and his linemates translate terrible possession reviews into danger from quick strikes. While Cooper tries to get Stamkos away from Markov, Therrien cares little to leave this to Subban.
The cards are still firmly stacked in Montreal's favour. But winning players need to know how to play their cards right, against any tactic of defense. This will be Game 3 from the start. I look forward to another episode of the series now.