You know it's not a good sign when your All-Star goalie grabs the puck behind his net and throws it out in front, directly to an opposing player who immediately redirects it into the empty cage. Carey Price's unfortunate assist on the game-winning goal last night was emblematic of the kinds of plays that got his team into a 3-0 hole from which it couldn't recover.
A couple of the players and coach Jacques the Knife himself said afterwards that the team was "too loose" or "wasn't ready." Watching the first period, it seemed like it was actually the opposite. The Canadiens looked tight, as though the deafening adoration of the home crowd called for them to do something special or more complicated than what they'd done in Boston. They started trying too hard for the first goal, with forwards making impossible passes and the Ds pinching when they shouldn't. The result was an unexpected gift for a Bruins team that had been living in fear of getting swept.
The Bs made no mistake in capitalizing in the wake of a scattered, jittery Habs PP, or catching the defence out of position to force odd-man rushes. They were certainly more desperate than the Canadiens, and all they needed was a chance to open up The System. The Habs gave them that chance early, and in the process gave them the mental edge in the series.
Playoff hockey is all about the headspace. That's why we see number-one seeds fall to a team that executes a disciplined system of sacrifice and opportunism. That's why teams, riddled with injuries and against long odds, manage to control tough road games and win when, on paper, they shouldn't.
So, even though the Canadiens recovered admirably from their early torpor (what a move by Kostitsyn on Chara for his goal!), the Bruins will take something other than the win away from last night. A team that thought it was doomed has received a stay of execution, winning in a hostile building for the first time all year. They're now looking at the series as winnable. All they have to do, they're thinking, is play the same game on Thursday and they have every reason to believe they can win again. That brings it back to home ice advantage in Boston.
The Candiens, on the other hand, are realizing they must win on Thursday because otherwise, they go back to Boston for a best-of-three, with two of them on enemy ice. The Bruins attitude is all positive, seeing Game Four as a way to redeem themselves. The Canadiens are the ones under pressure to win at home, with the recent knowledge that they're beatable. It's an interesting mind shift for a team that's gone into every playoff series in the last two years as an underdog. They've thrived in elimination games, but really don't have any experience at being in charge of a series. That requires a different kind of focus; one that we see in veteran winners like the Red Wings. It's much harder to fend off a desperate team than it is to be the desperate guys yourselves. The challenge for the Habs and their coaches now is to find a way to get back to their game plan and forget all the outside influences.
The Canadiens won the second half of last night's game, but they know they can't afford to drop their guard for even a period or they'll pay for it. That's a lot of pressure going into a game they, psychologically at least, really need to win. Fortunately, their push back last night could be a source of comfort. So is the fact that Tim Thomas can be induced to give up softies. One would not expect Carey Price to give up the kinds of goals he allowed last night again, so that's a plus, as is the intensity of Brian Gionta and Tomas Plekanec when it really counts.
The Habs will take their positives where they can find them, because last night was kind of scary and the Bruins now have a reason to fight harder. Thursday night may very well tell the story of the series.