Saturday, April 24, 2010

Aftermath: Keep On Rockin' In the Free World

Neil Young's classic anthem starts out: "There's colours on the street, red white and blue..." and that's the feeling today. Everything is red, white and blue because our Habs played their hearts out and live to keep on rockin' for another day.

It's funny how little it takes to make us happy. Sixty minutes of hard work, dedication, self-sacrifice and effort. Smart decisions and team play. Such things seem such small achievements when you think about it; much easier than brilliant natural talent and vast reserves of size and strength are to acquire at least. After all, anybody can work hard, regardless of his limitations in ability or physical build. Anybody can throw himself in front of a shot, even if he can't fire off one as hard or as accurate himself. The thing is, anybody can do those jobs but so few actually do them. It's special when a team pulls together and grinds out a win on pure grit like the Habs did last night. So, sometimes a display of heart and will like we saw in Game Five can make us as happy as a big offensive outburst can.

It all started and ended in goal, of course. The Canadiens have a respectable number of players who can score. They have a respectable defence against most opposition. But it's in net where they have something more than respectable. Both Price and Halak are very good young goaltenders who've played good-to-excellent hockey for much of the series. Last night, though, Jaro Halak reached inside himself and managed to overcome fatigue, nerves, disappointment and self-doubt. He played the kind of brilliant, focused goal that inspires his teammates. His defencemen knew if they let him have the first shot, they could just worry about the rebounds. His forwards knew they could play tight defence because he'd protect the goals they managed to score. Watching him shut down the best third-period team in the league in that hair-raising final frame last night was watching a winner. This is a guy who doesn't quit, even against the longest odds. He's what the Canadiens need to lift them above respectable. His team knows it too. At the end of the game, the enthusiastic embraces and playful jostling between the players and their goalie told a story. I don't know if he's got the mental or physical reserves left to pull it off again on Monday, but if he does, the Canadiens have a chance.

There were other stories last night as well. Hal Gill was heroic once again. The goat on defence for much of the season has another level entirely when it comes to playoff hockey. This is what Bob Gainey hired last July, and he was right to do so. He and his ten-foot stick played twenty-five minutes of smothering defence and blocked five shots to help out his goalie. He was a star on the PK, which shut the Caps out again, and so was his partner.

Josh Gorges topped the time-on-ice chart for the Habs last night, and he was absolutely stellar. Earlier this year, he was ranked fifth in the league among defencemen in the defensive categories of the game: shots blocked, most minutes on without a goal against and most successful PK minutes. He's not a flashy player by any stretch, but he's so solid. Not the biggest guy, he wins puck battles because he's courageous. Gainey did well to get Gill for the playoffs, but he did even better to get Gorges for every day.

Scott Gomez got his head out of his ass and stopped taking stupid penalties. He was also great on the PK and smart on Ovechkin. He was the only Hab better than fifty percent on faceoffs too, which helped a lot.

The usual suspects up front: Gionta, Cammalleri, Moore, Plekanec, Pyatt and Metro all worked their tails off. Lapierre and Sergei Kostitsyn were effective on the forecheck too, but a special mention has to go to Travis Moen. He's another one who finally showed why Bob Gainey got him. He said on TSN last night that he told Gomez and Gionta before the game if they dumped the puck in deep, he'd "go fetch it." He did that and more, bringing grit and energy to the line and scoring the winning goal. He played a great game, running a great risk of being verbally diddled by Pierre McGuire.

Ryan O'Byrne and Andrei Markov looked very comfortable together. Markov was on top of his game, with the exception of a couple of scary pinches that left him racing to get back, and O'Byrne was hitting and blocking shots the way a big man is supposed to do. He's not perfect, but he's getting better whenever he's given a chance.

That brings us to Jacques Martin. I'm not a fan of his, as you probably know by now, but he did some good things last night, most of which are already well-documented. He moved Moen up to the Gomez line, decided to start Halak and, most importantly, benched the Scary Twins on defence for most of the last ten minutes of the game. Playing four D was risky because all it would have taken would have been an icing call that kept them on the ice to the point of exhaustion to cause a defensive melt-down. The four guys...O'Byrne, Markov, Gill and Gorges...played it smart though, with simple chips off the glass, smart passes and good work on the boards in their own zone. The risk paid off for Martin, so good for him.

We know the team can play like they did last night and win games. We know they can be better, if guys like Andrei Kostitsyn and Benoit Pouliot, both of whom played decent hockey, really step up the way they can. What we don't know is if they can manage to put it all together again on Monday. It won't be easy because the Caps will be angry now, and for some reason, they seem to love flying around the Bell Centre.

For two days though, we can be happy. We can see red, white and blue everywhere because our hard-working Habs are still rockin'.


moeman said...

I may have suggested before but may not have clearly stated why,

I simply love J.T (and her fabulously-named blog).

Is it her incredible wordsmith'ing?

Her in-depth hockey knowledge?

Her calm in the storm of a season stewardship?

Her fabulous fact-similes?

Her in/during-game commenting dedication?

Her no-hyperbole postings?

Her appreciation for good music?

Her virtual hockey gal beauty?

As in any worth-taking objective test, the answer is;




J.T. said...

Jeez, moe. Way to embarrass a blogger! The sentiment, and your readership are much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

All the above! J.T., what a guy!

Anonymous said...

who are the scary twins?

J.T. said...

@anon: Hammer and MAB