Scott Gomez has taken so much heat this year, it's a miracle he hasn't spontaneously combusted. Not that a lot of it wasn't deserved. He got knocked by fans (including this one), journalists, critics, paperboys and bums on the street. In Game One against the Bruins, however, he took a long stride toward redemption. Gomez didn't get a star last night, but he deserved one. It was the first time all year he put together a full game of hard skating, tenacious backchecking and high-percentage, accurate passing. Really, it was the first time all year he looked like the top-line centre he's supposed to be.
It couldn't have happened for him at a better time. On a night when everybody on the team tried his ass off, Gomez either had to join in or lose a lot of respect among his peers. He rose to the challenge beautifully. He had lots of company.
Andrei Kostitsyn, who's been so inconsistent throughout his career, got hurt blocking a shot early in the game, but came back to help stabilize a jittery Lars Eller. He showed he's absorbed the hard-learned lessons of playing in a defence-first system. He hit, he backchecked, he blocked shots and he made some nice offensive plays as well.
Tomas Plekanec could have had a hat trick. He had three (at least!) glorious looks at wide expanses of Thomas-free net, but couldn't cash. No matter, in the end, because he made David Krejci a non-factor, tormented the Bruins' D with his speed, was brilliant on the PK and suckered Chara into attempted murder. He'll score eventually because he's putting himself in the right place to get those glorious chances.
Brian Gionta also harrassed the Boston defence with speed, and he was able to finish his chances. He converted a pair of quick, accurate Gomez passes to beat a less-than-stellar Tim Thomas, and he might have had another with some bounce luck.
Carey Price made some tough saves, but just as importantly, he made the routine saves and used his positioning to make hard ones look routine. He projected an aura of solidity that gave his team confidence. You just can't underestimate the value of a goalie whose body language says, "It's okay, I'm here."
The team's vets fulfilled the old axiom that your best players have to be your best players, but the kids were alright too. Ryan White was a wrecking ball, knocking Bruins all over the place and making their fans find a new target for their frustrated rage. David Desharnais was quick, energetic and tenacious on the boards. Lars Eller looked like he was on a Red Bull high to start the game, but reeled it in as the night progressed, ending on a much calmer note.
Then there was P.K.Subban. This kid is a force of nature. His skating is sublime, his first pass as accurate as a mathemetician and his physical positioning as implacable as a concrete wall. Most amazingly, he's still raw and learning. A lot of credit for his rapid development has to go to his partner, Hal Gill. By now, the off-ice relationship between the two has been well-documented. Gill keeps Subban in his place as a rookie, and won't let him get a swelled head about the adoration he commands. Despite the difference in their skills, though, Gill helps Subban on the ice as well.
It's from Gill that Subban has learned lessons of self-sacrifice, strategic positioning and smart, simple defence. Those were in evidence last night as the kid ate up 27 minutes of ice time in a solid, well-rounded performance. Really, all of the defencemen were solid. Brent Sopel and Wisniewski blocked shots, Hamrlik and Spacek showcased their veteran poise, taking their time to move the puck without panic. All of them used their bodies very effectively to get between the puck and the net. They're not a very physical bunch but, last night, they didn't have to be.
And so, we come to The System. Jacques Martin might coach some boring regular-season hockey, but it's perfectly tailored for a team that can't compete in a smash-up contest. They use position and transition to gain the advantage, and in Game One, they did it perfectly.
Last night was probably as perfect a game as the Canadiens are capable of playing. The only thing they can possibly improve upon is the accuracy of their passing, which was great in the first, iffy in the second and a little better in the third. And maybe they can put some of those wide-open chances in the back of the net. Otherwise, if they can play three more games like they did Game One, the Bruins are in trouble.
That said, as great as it was, it was one game. The Bs now have to win 4-of-6, which is a lot more daunting than 4-of-7, but they'll be thinking one game isn't a very big deficit and they'll come out roaring tomorrow night. The Canadiens will have to expect an onslaught in the first, but we saw them prove they can do it last night. Now they know they can, but more importantly, so do the Bruins. If Scott Gomez and his teammates can do it again, this will be a very interesting series.