How well can a team play and still lose a hockey game? I was so impressed with the Habs' play last night. It was their most dominating game of the playoffs, with the possible exception of game seven against Boston. I thought they skated the hell out of the Flyers. Their passes were nice, the PP was strong, the chances they got (and missed) were unreal. They were winning faceoffs and the battles along the boards, and basically, fairly easily controlling the play most of the time. If not for Carey Price having, for him, a sub-par game, and Markov playing hurt, they'd be up 2-0 in the series today. But you have to wonder what it must do to a team's mindset when they play like that and still come away empty-handed.
This team has faced many tests of character in the regular season, and in the first round. They've learned consistency, and how to perform under pressure. Now they have to learn how to keep their spirits up after a night on which they played their hearts out and it just wasn't good enough. That's not easy. It will take a great deal of committment and discipline not to give in to frustration and start taking stupid penalties if Biron continues to rob them blind. It may be the biggest test this young team will face.
It's one thing to know you lost because you didn't play hard enough or because you took a bunch of stupid penalties. But to know you completely outplayed the opposition, yet they're the ones laughing at you in your own building (cheap bastard Flyers), is very difficult to accept. As is the fact that the outplayed opposition team managed to cash in every chance it got while you missed countless glorious opportunities. Carbonneau will be challenged with getting the team's collective spirits up and clearing the slate for game three. Price will have to concentrate on getting better generally. And the rest of the team must learn to forget about the heartbreak of this one and bring the same solid style of game back in Philly.
All in all, though, winning a Cup is about many things. Of course, a team needs skill and grit, dedication and doggedness. It must have cameraderie and good goaltending. And, maybe most of all, it needs a dose of luck. So far, the Habs have had to work very hard for what they've gotten and the lucky goals seem to be mostly going the Flyers' way. That may change before the series ends, but it may not. It may come down to a bunch of games that the Habs deserve to win and just don't.
Whatever happens, I like the way the team is playing. They're obviously the better side in this series and I have to believe the better team will prevail. But sometimes it doesn't, and we have to be prepared for that possibility too. The young Canadiens' players will be taking another test in Playoffs 101 either way. Let's hope they pass with flying colours.