BROSSARD, Que. – Scott Gomez is hoping fate will turn in the Montreal Canadiens direction.
Overtime wins in the fourth and fifth games have given the Boston Bruins a 3-2 lead in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final, but that’s how close the battle has been between the Northeast Division rivals.
“It’s a great series,” Gomez said Monday. “It’s been so weird.
“It’s whoever gets that little break or bounce. It’s fun for us. They threw the last punch and now we have to throw one. If you looked at the teams this season, this is what it boils down to.”
The Bruins can put away the Canadiens with a victory in Game 6 at the Bell Centre on Tuesday night (CBC, 7 p.m. ET).
It promises to be a good one, with Boston looking to come back from an 0-2 deficit to win a best-of-seven series for the first time in 27 tries and Montreal seeking the same magic that saw them win five elimination games while ousting Washington and Pittsburgh in the opening two rounds of the playoffs a year ago.
If Game 7 is necessary, it will be played Wednesday night in Boston.
Thus far, it has been tight, tough but mostly clean hockey between teams poised to meet for the 12th time this season. In the playoffs, each club has scored 12 goals, so each goal has been precious.
Montreal took the first two in Boston and the Bruins won the next two in Montreal, the last a 5-4 overtime win when the Canadiens failed to get the puck in deep to complete a line change and the Bruins got a three-on-one break the other way.
In Game 5 on Saturday in Boston, the home team won for the first time, but it took double overtime to settle an end-to-end game in which both goaltenders excelled—Carey Price for Montreal and Tim Thomas for Boston.
Tomas Plekanec had a chance with Thomas down and saw Boston forward Michael Ryder make the save with his hand. Michael Cammalleri had a similar chance and hit Bruins’ defenceman Zdeno Chara’s leg.
In the second OT, Brian Gionta looked to have a sure goal on a two-on-one only to see Thomas slide across for surely his best save of the series. Moments later, the puck came to Boston’s Nathan Horton at the doorstep to score into an open side for the win.
“We really haven’t got that break or bounce, but no one’s complaining,” added Gomez. “We’ve got a chance at home to move on now and we know how great a place this is to play.
“We’ve got to take advantage of the crowd. We’ve got guys who have gone through it and if anything, guys are excited about it. Playing Game 6 at the Bell Centre: you’ve got to like that.”
The Canadiens may be without defenceman James Wisniewski and rookie centre David Desharnais, who were both hurt in Game 5. Neither skated Monday. Coach Jacques Martin said decisions would be made on both players before the game.
Wisniewski looked to have a back problem when he left Game 5 in the second period only to return in overtime. Desharnais, who had been promoted to wing on the Gomez-Gionta line and looked effective, is reportedly out with a sprained knee after being sandwiched by two Bruins defencemen in the first OT.
If they can’t go, defenceman Yannick Weber will likely play at forward on the fourth line and replace Wisniewski on the right point on the power play, which is where he practised on Monday. Paul Mara would likely move in defence.
Weber dressed for Game 2 when Andrei Kostitsyn missed a game with a foot injury and scored a goal, but he was back in the pressbox a game later.
“In Game 2 when I played it was a last-second decision, so we’ll see how it goes,” the 22-year-old said. “Whatever the call’s going to be, on defence or up front, I’ll be ready.”
For the Canadiens to stay alive, more than bounces will need to go their way.
In goal, Price’s best three games so far have been in Boston. At home, two mistakes cost goals in Game 3 and he allowed five goals on 35 shots in Game 4. Price will seek a Boston-level performance at home, particularly since Thomas appears to be over the jitters he showed early in the series and is finally looking comfortable playing against Montreal.
The Canadiens have killed off all 15 Boston advantages in the series, but their power play has struck only twice in 16 attempts, well below their regular season average of 19.7 per cent.
“It’s an area where we could be better,” said coach Jacques Martin. “In Game 2 the power play was a factor when we scored.”
An area they have improved is faceoffs, which has much to do with Jeff Halpern’s return from injury in Game 4. Boston centre Patrice Bergeron continues to dominate, with a 63.9 per cent success rate on draws, but Halpern has won 71.4 per cent in two games. Tomas Plekanec finally got on the plus side winning 56 per cent in Game 5, mostly at David Krejci’s and Chris Kelly’s expense.
Controlling the puck as much as possible could help Montreal play more in the attacking zone, since they have had trouble containing the Bruins’ big forwards at times in their own zone.
The Canadiens will also look to check their emotions in front of their roaring home crowd. In Game 3, they took a 3-1 lead and looked to have the series all-but clinched, but let it slip away going for another goal.
An advantage will be their experience in do-or-die situations.
“You always get excited, you don’t get scared by it,” said Gionta. “It’s playing with desperation, knowing that there may not be a tomorrow. You play on that edge.
“The more playoff games you play, the more often you’re put in certain situations. That’s where the experience comes through. You’ve been there. It’s just that comfort level of being in those situations.”