One down, another on the ropes. With the St. Louis Blues swept out of the post-season by a strong Vancouver team, the stage is set Wednesday for a second last-gasp, this time in the East.
Is there anything Montreal can do to prevent a sweep at the hands of the Bruins? The situation looks grim. To be sure, it will be a raucous crowd at the Bell Centre and from Boston’s perspective, perhaps the best course of action is to keep things boring for a while.
This rope-a-dope strategy, which mandates patience and the ability to pounce when an opponent trips up, was used for much of the regular season by some of the NHL’s best teams. The Sharks, Red Wings and yes, the Bruins, all employed the calm counter attack with great effectiveness. Game 4 in Montreal will be a perfect time to use it again.
The B’s did in fact use the method in a Game 3 win, giving up the first goal but weathering a Montreal storm that could have put the game out of reach early. The difference tonight will be the presence of the Massachusetts Mauler, Milan Lucic.
‘The Looch’ is loose after his one-game suspension and, though I would never ask the great competitor to tone his game down, Lucic would be wise not to give the Habs – or their fans – any emotional ammunition. This naturally means not giving in to any dance requests from Mike Komisarek, Gregory Stewart or Tom Kostopoulos.
A physical Lucic is an effective Lucic, but finishing off a hated rival on its home ice takes both skill and patience. Boston has both, it just needs to execute now.
Expect fireworks in Montreal, but ultimately disappointment for Habs fans – a ‘burning schoolhouse,’ if you will.
On Broadway, it’s going to be all about head games. Rangers super-villain and fashion fan Sean Avery could call his Game 3 collection “Epic Fail,” considering his stat line was all PIMs and a New York loss. But much like Lucic, an effective Avery is one who throws big bodychecks and drives the opposition to the penalty box with his antics.
With captain Chris Drury on the limp, the Blueshirts will need the ol’ Avery charm working overtime to combat a Washington team that has faith in goalie Simeon Varlamov and goals coming from players not named Ovechkin.
Not that Washington should be happy with Alex the Great’s zero goals to date, but Ovie got on track late in the Philly series last year, too. Caps fans just need him to pot a couple sooner this time. It goes without saying all the momentum in this series hinges on tonight’s contest; either the Rangers take a 3-1 series stranglehold or Washington gets even and the future becomes a best-of-three with two of those in Washington.
Tonight would also be a good time for the young Blackhawks to get back in the win column. The Calgary Flames finally solved Chicago goalie Nikolai Khabibulin and have that vaunted ‘Sea of Red’ rooting full-throat for them.
Patrick Kane has apparently recovered from his allegedly Rene Bourque-inspired flu and is expected to play, so the flashy Hawks sophomore needs to show what he can do in a hostile road playoff environment. The Flames, like the Caps, can really swing momentum with a win tonight, while the Hawks would go back home to finish the series in five games with a victory.
Show off your hockey knowledge by entering The Hockey News’ FREEPlayoff Challenge!
THN.com's Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion on the action from the night before, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs. Read more entries HERE.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.