MONTREAL – Anyone who didn’t see this coming has obviously not watched the Montreal Canadiens in the playoffs this season. They’ve been defying all logic since the playoffs began, so why would they stop now?
After the Canadiens win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final, some of the Flyers classified the 5-1 verdict as “an old-fashioned ass kicking.” And they were absolutely right.
“Well, I guess you can run with that,” said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette. “That’s good. It’s one game. That’s all it is.”
That’s interesting because Laviolette came into the game fretting about the way his team was playing, despite the fact it was up 2-0 in the series. It might only be one game, but there’s a difference between losing and having your lunch handed to you, so it will be interesting to see how that plays on the Flyers minds going into Game 4.
Will they now feel the need to put Jeff Carter and Ian Laperriere into the lineup Saturday afternoon? If they do, what do they do about their center ice situation? Questions, questions.
The Canadiens, on the other hand, answered a ton of questions with their play Thursday night. First, they figured out a way to pierce the armor of Flyers goalie Michael Leighton, who had a shutout streak of 172 minutes and 55 seconds before Michael Cammalleri (who else?) opened the floodgates with his 13th goal of the playoffs.
And for all the talk about getting traffic in front of Leighton, the Canadiens did their damage not by standing the in the slot and being pushed around, but by using their speed and skill and capitalizing on the space the Flyers gave them. They also managed to stretch out the ice with long passes and were able to make a habit of sneaking behind the Flyer defensemen.
“I think it’s overall, it’s everything,” said Brian Gionta, who also scored for the Canadiens. “We moved the puck much better tonight. We came up with support all together. We entered their zone a lot better tonight. Our forecheck was good. So when all that’s going, it’s a lot easier to get traffic to the net, get good shots and good opportunities.”
Karma also seems to playing a big part for the Canadiens in these playoffs – case in point Marc-Andre Bergeron. It turns out there’s a perfectly good reason why he’s a league-worst minus-11 in the playoffs. It’s because he’s a friggin’ disaster in his own end, but despite all the giveaways, he managed to score the fifth goal of the game on the power play.
And you know, what’s up with P.K. Subban? The young man certainly has the ability to be dynamic, but he wants to win the game every time he touches the puck. Luckily for him, Roman Hamrlik is his defense partner and was there to clean up all Subban’s messes, which was one of the main reasons why he was named first star of the game. After the game, Subban was talking to family and friends and said that at one point, the coaches told Scott Gomez to tell him to stop pinching at the offensive blueline.
But when it comes to handling players, a lot of credit has to go to the Canadiens coaching staff in general and head coach Jacques Martin in particular. There would have been a time when a high-risk, high-reward player such as Subban would have been on an incredibly short leash. And the main reason why Martin’s teams in Ottawa were always gagging it up against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the playoffs – aside from bad goaltending – was that it never exploited the significant talent and speed advantage it had over the Leafs.
Martin seems intent on not having that happen again and while his teams will always be responsible without the puck, he seems to be giving them more freedom to create with it and more opportunities to try to get it back when they don’t.
All of which sets up an interesting couple of days leading up to Game 4. Should the Canadiens win and hold serve, all bets are off. There are areas of the game in which they can be better, but they have clearly solved Leighton and should have a ton of confidence.
“We’re going to need to be better on Saturday,” Martin said.
VIDEO: THN Puck Panel – Exclusive one-on-one with Mike Cammalleri
From the road in Montreal, THN’s Ken Campbell is joined by special guest Montreal Canadiens sniper and playoff goal-scoring leader Mike Cammalleri to discuss…Montreal’s ability to stretch the ice in Game 3…The power play finally connecting…Who stepped up to help secure the Canadiens victory…And what the Habs have to do to win Game 4. PRODUCER: Ted Cooper.
THN.com’s Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion on the action, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs.
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