Saturday, April 30, 2011


The first Saturday after elimination is always the worst. There's no jarring morning alarm, so you float gently to awareness and the potential of the weekend stretching ahead. A sense of well-being settles over you, and you hazily think...ah...Saturday. Saturday night. Friends. Beer. Hockey. Habs. Who's on deck tonight? Then it hits.

It's game day, but there is no game. At least no game that matters. Sure, there's hockey. Playoff hockey, even, which is bound to be entertaining and competitive. It just doesn't matter. Who cares who wins, when your team's not in it?

That's when all the "almosts" and "what ifs" that, when totted up, resulted in the end of your team's season, start to play over and over in your head. Plekanec almost had that breakaway that would have tied Game Three, you think. What if Moen had any hands at all and could have tipped in one of those Gionta set-ups in Game Four, you wonder? Even though you know your team did all it could, and no group is perfect all the time, making mistakes inevitable, you can't help analyzing the errors and wondering.

This year is the worst for the wondering because of the way it all ended. One minute your team is a contender, battling all out in a next-goal-wins, why-not-us competition. The next minute, their season is over. Just like that. The entire seven-game build up doesn't prepare you for the suddenness of the end. Hockey, then no hockey. Bags packed for the next round, then clubs packed for the summer.

This was a really hard loss in every way. The poor-sport team that won, the damaged team that lost while trying its damnedest, the rivalry, the blown chances, the sudden death. It's only now, on a Saturday that should be a game day, that you really feel it. The first Saturday is always so sad. I miss our team already.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Some Post-Playoff Correspondence

As the Canadiens clean out their lockers and prepare to head off for summer holidays and training programs, it's time for the rest of us to clear up our 2010-11 business as well. I've decided to finally write all of those letters I keep meaning to send. Here are a few of them:

Dear NHL:

I see there's no suspension for Andrew Ference for his elbow to Jeff Halpern's head. Myself and some fellow fans have been joking all season that you guys just spin a wheel of fortune and hand out whatever suspension it lands on. Now I'm starting to think it's not a joke. We've figured out your system, haven't we? It's okay. You can tell us. Don't worry, we understand. If you've painted yourself into an impossible corner by trying to appear tough without actually changing anything, there's not a lot else you can do. Good luck with your excuses for Round Two.

Dear Bruins Fans:

May you be comforted by beating a worn down, depleted team in seven games when your Vezina-winning goalie allows five goals a game against Philly. And may your cheap-shot artists be out-cheapshot. May the class you show to others be revisited to you in spades.

Dear Hockey Night In Canada:

I hope you all brought spare pants to work for after the Bruins scored in OT.

Dear Pierre Gauthier:

For the love of God, please get this team a real bottom-six. A solid defence wouldn't hurt either. Somebody outside Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta has to score in the playoffs. It's your job to get some support for those guys, so please, don't leave it another year. Oh, and if you're having trouble justifying sending seven million in salary to Hamilton as your only option for dumping Gomez, I'll try to help. If tomorrow morning I start a facebook group to solicit donations from Habs fans who are willing to pay for him to go away, I should have you covered by lunch time. You have a lot of work to do this summer. Don't screw it up.

Dear Scott Gomez:

You currently owe Habs fans about seven-and-a-half million dollars. Cash, cheque or major credit cards are acceptable.

Dear Tim Thomas:

We're on to your Mr.Nice Guy act. Your disgraceful comments about P.K.Subban and his "diving" and the way he's a "travesty to the game" are disappointing and smack of poor sportsmanship. You couldn't just win with good grace, could you? Your lack of class in your comments about Subban sours your victory and makes you look like a small, petty man. I hope you're eating rubber for four more games before you slink home to complain about how the Flyers are a bunch of cheaters too. And I hope you drop your Vezina on your big toe and miss six weeks next year.

Dear Carey Price:

Enjoy the rodeo this summer. If anyone deserves to chill out by roping a few calves, it's you. Just, please God, don't hurt yourself! Thanks for everything.

Dear Kirk Muller:

I would like for you to stay in Montreal, please. Yes, I know there are a half dozen NHL head-coaching jobs open and you'd very much like to take one of those if you get the chance. However, the Canadiens need you. Somebody who speaks "player" needs to be part of the coaching staff. It also helps that your heart rate has actually risen above "coma" in the last year. The Canadiens need someone who's connected to their last Cup to remind the team why it's important for the Habs to be relevant. That's you. Thanks, and see you at camp.

Dear Lars Eller:

So it's true. You actually dislocated your shoulder in Game Six, popped it back in and came back to finish the series. Man, that had to hurt like a bugger! It appears that you really get what it means to compete and win in the playoffs. I didn't want Jaro Halak to go, but if he had to, I'm glad you've become a Hab instead.

Dear Annakin Slayd:

This doesn't feel a bit like '93. This feels like shite.

Aftermath: Over

The Habs are dead. Long live the Habs.

Our team went down swinging last night, and even though it hurts, the players who matter for the Canadiens' future gave everything they had to change the outcome. There's so much to regret: WHY couldn't they hold a 3-1 lead in Game Four? WHY couldn't they score even once in three overtimes? WHY did Gomez have to suck so badly? Still, though, there's so much more about which to be proud.

P.K.Subban has probably saved Trevor Timmins. Despite all the lousy first-round picks to which Timmins has committed, he managed to find a legitimate NHL number-one D in the mid-second round. Not just any number-one D, either. Subban has the offensive ability to break open a game (or score a vital tying goal with less than two minutes to go in a Game Seven), but at 21 years of age, he's also developing on defense by leaps and bounds. He was the most-played and arguably the most effective defenseman in the series against Boston, including Norris-nominee Zdeno Chara. On top of his skills, the mental strength this kid possesses is extremely impressive. After all the criticism he's received from two-bit cheap opponents, so-called media experts and fans, one might excuse a kid his age for fighting back. One could even understand if he decided to take an on-ice jab at someone who's been particularly in his face. He didn't, though. Subban played a very disciplined, controlled series worthy of a player much older. He's a gem.

Carey Price faced more pressure than any other player in the NHL this year. He took over the Habs net in the wake of the Jaro Halak trade, after having a lousy season both mentally and in results last year. It didn't look good for him when he heard boos in the very first pre-season game at the Bell Centre. Somehow, Price took that negativity and erased it with confident, steady play all year long. He gave his team every chance to win in the regular season and continued that into the playoffs. If anyone tries to blame the series loss on him, they're blind.

Tomas Plekanec said last summer he found it disappointing that fans didn't understand the role he played in last year's playoffs. Jacques Martin asked him to put aside his focus on offence and concentrate on shutting down the other team's best scorers instead. In two rounds, Plekanec helped corral Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby and kept them from making a huge difference in those series. Similarly, this year, he contained the Bs'number-one centre in David Krejci. Plekanec tallied five points in seven games, while Krejci logged just one goal. Pleks also played a big part in the Canadiens perfect PK during the series, including notching a gorgeous shorthanded goal. He played a large portion of the season with absent or underachieving linemates, and still maintained his solid two-way game. He's a keeper.

Lars Eller showed flashes of better-than-decent play during the regular season, but in the playoffs he became a different guy. He was fast, aggressive and a giant pain in the Bruins' collective butt. Given linemates with any kind of offensive ability at all, Eller will be a really good centreman in the NHL. Perhaps the most promising thing about his playoffs, though, is the fact that he suffered a significant shoulder injury in Game Six, but played through it with the stoicism of a person who gets it. He knows what you have to do to win in the playoffs and he's prepared to do it.

Michael Cammalleri has proven himself, again, to be a playoff beast. Emerging from a less-than-impressive season, Cammalleri hit the post-season with everything he had. He'll get criticism for not being great defensively, but that's not his job. He's competent defensively most of the time, but he's excellent when it comes to producing vital points. Having lead the league in playoff goals last year, he's bowing out this season with ten points in seven games, tops in playoff scoring. Cammalleri isn't the kind of player who can do it all at both ends of the ice, but when it comes to compete level and the ability to bear down and produce under pressure, he's your man.

These were the players who made a difference in these playoffs, and the good news is they're all young and able to return in the fall to form a pretty decent core of talent.

Lots of the guys whose futures are less certain deserve some respect this year as well. The Old Guards, Gill, Spacek, Hamrlik, Mara and Sopel all tried their damnedest. They were thrust into positions of responsibility for which they weren't suited, but they performed as well as they could despite fatigue and injury. That's something of which to be proud in our team.

The heart displayed by guys like Tom Pyatt, Ryan White (in his limited minutes) and David Desharnais (before blowing out his knee) was also a source of pride.

I'm proud of the way the team battled through the adversity of losing players important both on the ice and in the room, and I'm proud of the way the coaching staff and team veterans held the steady course all year. Most of all, I'm proud of the dignity with which the team carried itself.

I had an email from a reader last night, expressing his discouragement with the way the NHL has become a cheap-shot league. I explained to him I stick with the Habs because they've held themselves above all that. They don't give the other team's fans the finger, then lie about it. They don't make disparaging comments about their opponents. They don't take cheap shots on the ice. The Habs are better and classier than the NHL norm, and that's something about which to be proud.

One has to believe that the odds will balance out and the Canadiens may actually be able to keep the heart of their team in the lineup next year. If they do, they'll be back in the playoffs with all the determination and heart they showed the last two seasons. With a little luck and a little health, we may see better results.

The Habs are dead. Long live the Habs.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Habs vs.Bruins - Game Seven

Notes on OT:

-OT certainly favours the Bs, whose depth will figure into this. The Habs are old and depleted on D, and that will hurt.

-If I were a Hab, I wouldn't want to shake Chara's hand. Or any of them, really.

-One goal for the season. This is too much.

-Price has given his team every possible chance to win this. He's answered whatever questions have been asked of him.

-And one last OT loss to put the season to bed. Devastating, but not unexpected.

Notes on the third:

-Wiz looked shaky on D in the first, but his offence really helped keep the pressure on in the second. I hope he survives the third.

-This is giving me ulcers.

-Cheap shot by Ference on Halpern, and another Hab has to go to the quiet room.

-The Bs have been offside so many fortuitous times tonight.

-And, in perfect harmony with the rest of the Habs year, Hamrlik is taken out of the play with an uncalled elbow and a former Sen picks up the go-ahead rebound.

-I'm not sure which I hate more, Gomez or Martin for playing him so damn much. He's minus three again tonight. I just can't believe him.

-I wish NHL teams could pick up guys from eliminated squads. I'd give a lot to have Jonathan Toews in the Habs lineup tonight.

-Cammalleri, with the tying goal on his stick decides to pass. And that's how it's gone.

-Well, you can't say they didn't have a chance. A PP with two minutes to go.

-And SUBBAN WITH THE BOMB!!! Holy crap.

-Losing faceoffs is hurting them so much.

-OT in Game Seven. I can't take it.

Notes on the second:

-I wish Kostitsyn would use his huge, hairy gorilla arms to score a couple of goals. Do you think he understands the term "contract year?"

-Nice flurry to start the second, negated by a dumbass Eller crosscheck.

-Plekanec couldn't have chosen a better time to cash a breakaway if he'd been allowed to write the script himself.

-How on earth did Krejci miss a wide open net? Man, the Habs D is terrible.

-I'm not sensing any real hate between these teams anymore. They're more worried about their own fortunes than they are about each other.

-Price is a bit scary, going for pucks that end up in battles with Bruins.

-Gomez continues to be the worst Hab on the ice, including the hundred-year-old defencemen. Closely followed by Kostitsyn.

-Twenty minutes for the season. What a ride!

Notes on the first:

-I'm nervous because I'd love a Habs win, but at the same time, I'm calm because whatever happens, they did their best. It's a weird feeling.

-I hope Krejci is available to play for Team Czech at the World Championships. They could really use him.

-The Boston anthem singer sounds like he's gargling William Shatner.

-Wow, Mike Cammalleri has a big head. Literally, huge. Almost as big as Marchand's nose.

-First blood to the Bs. Gomez sucks. He's softer on the boards than a feather duster.

-Spacek and Sopel are terrible together. Oh, for the days of even half a Markov.

-It's looking like it was a mistake to play Wiz while he's hurt. He's pretty ineffective under pressure.

-2-0, and again Gomez is on the ice being useless. It's one thing to lose. It's another to lose because your friggin' millionaire is wretched.

-Could Weber be the Thomas Killer? Three playoff goals in his career, all against Timmy. Beautiful shot.

-Gomez' line is losing every battle against everyone.

-Great PK at the end of the period. The Habs will have to spill their guts to tie this in the second, and Price will have to shut it down.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Aftermath: Heroes and Hope

There wasn't a man in a Montreal Canadiens uniform last night who didn't try his damnedest to drive this series against the Bruins to seven games. When Scott Gomez is blocking shots and Lars Eller is returning to the game with a heavily bandaged shoulder, you know guys are going the extra mile.

When the game began with a disallowed goal that should clearly have been good, the Canadiens could have wilted. They could have sighed and said it was just another example of how they haven't had a break all series. They could have stopped skating, let up and gave the Bruins the advantage. Instead, they shook it off and buckled down to work.

Bruins fans and other assorted Habs haters will say the reffing was biased in favour of the Habs, which accounted for the two five-on-three PPs awarded to the Canadiens. When you look at it, though, there wasn't a whole lot the refs could do. Slashing a stick so it breaks on the faceoff, shooting a puck over the glass and playing a puck when there are six skaters on the ice are all pretty clearly defined penalties. It may have been the Bruins bad luck, or their own rash indiscipline, but those calls were pretty much no-brainers.

As was the five-minute major on Lucic. The Bruins-based outcry today is based on the fact that Mike Richards got only a minor penalty for a much worse hit. The problem with that reasoning is assuming the refs who called the Richards hit were right. In fact, they were wrong, and Richards should have been given a much more severe penalty. Chris Lee (shock of shocks) had the call on Lucic right. He deliberately ran at Jaro Spacek and drove him head-first into the glass, hard enough that Spacek had to be taken to the quiet room for concussion assessment. It was a good call, and the Bruins paid the price.

That's what the Habs were able to do last night. Despite missing David Desharnais and James Wisniewski (on top of all the other injuries they've sustained this year), they were opportunistic and made the most of their PP chances. In a series so evenly matched, the special teams are the one advantage either side can claim. The big difference in last night's game was that the Canadiens ran with that advantage, while the Bruins PP stalled.

It also helped that Carey Price and P.K.Subban played up to their star potential. Price got lucky a couple of times and the goal he allowed was kind of iffy, but he stood tall when it really counted. So did Subban, who played nearly 30 minutes again. He may have been passed over for a Calder nomination, but it's impossible to imagine where the Canadiens would be this year, or this playoff, without him. If these two guys are the core of the Habs future, the future's looking bright.

In the end, the old adage that your best players have to be your best players came true for the Habs. The most aggressive forwards on the team were Brian Gionta, Mike Cammalleri, Scott Gomez and Tomas Plekanec. They had the best chances and scored both goals, and they skated their butts off all night. If a battered, depleted team needed an example to follow, those guys provided it.

Winning again tonight will be a tall order for this team. At one point last night, RDS showed a shot of wounded Habs in the press box. Gorges, Pacioretty, Markov and the scratched Benoit Pouliot sat side-by-side, watching the action somewhat anxiously. The shot made you think about what this series would be like with those guys healthy and/or playing up to their ability. Not to mention if Desharnais and Wisniewski were in the lineup, and if Eller and Spacek weren't playing hurt. Unfortunately, all of those "what ifs" won't be answered tonight. Instead, the Canadiens will face Game Seven with a serious lack of depth and a tired team that busted its collective last nut just to make it to tonight. We can hope they can mount yet another heroic performance and somehow pull it off, but, on paper, we can't expect it.

I'm going to hope there are heroes in white tonight. After all, even if they're almost totally out of gas, it's better to go down to the Caps than the Bruins. And it's better to make it to the second round than not. Either way, the Habs have nothing to be ashamed of, and everything of which to be proud.

Bruins vs.Habs - Game Six

Notes on the third:

-Way too much scary Bruin pressure. Something's gotta give, sooner or later.

-PRICE! He just made up for the lousy goal he allowed.

-They're fighting for this. You have to give them credit.

-Interesting. Martin has Cammalleri taking draws instead of Plekanec on that line.

-Halfway through the period and still the one-goal lead is holding up. It can't last forever. Right?

-Considering the mismatch on faceoffs, it's amazing the Habs are even in this series.

-Holy crap! They're coming SO close!

-Thanks Chris Lee, for catching Kelly with three to go. That'll help.

-Wow. Back to Boston. Happy birthday to me!

Notes on the second:

-Terrible goal for Price to allow. Really deflating.

-Spacek! Oh no. If the Habs had a theme song in this playoffs, it'd be Another One Bites the Dust.

-Lucic gets the boot. Not that he's been a big threat anyhow.

-Eller's playing like one of his Norse ancestors, bloodied and battered and still pillaging.

-Gionta!! The man has better hand-eye coordination than Mr.Miagi catching a fly with chopsticks.

-The penalty parade is on in full force. Good thing the Bs PP is as effective as a chicken wire condom.

-Amazing that last Bruins chance stayed out. They'll have nightmares about that if they don't win.

-Full credit to the wounded Habs for a great shot at taking this one.

Notes on the first:

-It's kind of sad that a goalie can have a 2.00 GAA and a .938 SV%, and still have only a 2-3 record.

-The poor Habs. They're so beaten and battered.

-And with the typical luck of this series, Chris Lee blows down a loose puck and robs the Habs of a goal.

-I don't blame them for throwing the stupid rally towels on the ice. How can you beat the refs as well as the Bruins?

-Now Eller's gone too. A win tonight would be nothing short of a miracle.

-If Cammalleri shot that puck at McQuaid's foot on purpose to create a too-may-men call, he's a bloody genius.

-And the bullet shot beats Thomas to make up for the Great Ref Ripoff.

-I hope Gill thanked P.K. for saving his and AK's bacon on the Lucic break.

-Kostitsyn's playing particularly dumb tonight, which is saying a lot.

-Good period. Surely the Bs will push back with more in the second, though.

The Final Countdown

Will this be the last day of the Canadiens' 2010-11 season? All signs point to...maybe. Today's my birthday, just as it was last year for Game Six against the Caps. I went into that game with absolutely no expectations. After all, the Habs were down three games to one against a very potent Washington offence. The chances they'd pull it off, I thought, were somewhere between slim and none, and would require at least a minor miracle. As it turned out, the required miracle was supplied by one Jaroslav Halak, who pulled off the best playoff goaltending performance I'd seen since Patrick Roy in 1986. His 53 saves stole the crucial win to set up Game Seven and a series victory. So maybe it can happen again this year. Then again, the Habs have also been eliminated three times on my birthday, including a gut-wrenching rout by the Bruins in 1988.

The Canadiens have been, despite their injury troubles, extremely competitive in a series most pundits expected would be an easy win for the Bruins. The mistakes that have cost them games are the kinds of mistakes every team makes in the course of a series. It just seems the Habs have had to pay dearly for every one of them. I've always said to win a Cup, you have to have a healthy team, fully committed to self-sacrifice and a team-first mentality, with its best players leading the way, strong support from the rest of the cast, good goaltending and luck. The Habs' best players are doing okay, the support cast is doing what it can and the goaltending is solid. It's the luck that's been in short supply, and that's something a team can't control. The lack of good luck means the team is dealing with big injury problems. And losing frustrating, close games means the commitment level might be wavering in the face of blame. Despite it all, the team is making a good showing and has nothing about which to be ashamed. Sometimes, two good teams face off and one of them gets fewer breaks. Sometimes, you just lose, even when you give everything you've got.

One good thing about the playoffs is that they offer a sort of perspective we don't get during the season. With games on prime time every night, we get to see other teams up close, and see how they deal with pressure. What's interesting is that we spend so much time with tri-coloured blinders on, analyzing every little flaw in the Canadiens performance, we don't see how they stack up against other teams. Watching the other playoff series objectively, we can see that other good teams make some of the same mistakes the Habs do. We understand better that in the heat and speed of the game, dumb things just happen.

No matter what happens to the Canadiens tonight, they're facing nothing like the pressure the Vancouver Canucks are under. Imagine how terrible we'd feel if our team had won the President's Trophy and looked unbeatable all year, only to choke on a three-to-nothing lead against their nemesis? Imagine if it were the franchise goalie responsible for part of it, and everyone had lost faith in his ability to win in the playoffs? If the Canucks lose tonight, they'll be challenging last year's Bruins for the title of "Greatest Playoff Choke Job." The bonus for Habs fans is, if Vancouver blows it and the Canadiens lose, nobody's going to be talking much about Montreal's exit.

The worst thing about the last game of the playoffs, even if a team wins the Cup, is that it usually marks the end of the team as we know it. There are players we like who won't be back, and other guys we don't know yet who'll take their places. It's a time of transition and always a little sad. Despite some of his brain farts in this series, I like Roman Hamrlik. He's taken on a big role in covering for Andrei Markov the last two seasons, and really helped the team make the playoffs. If the team loses tonight, it's probably his last game in a Canadiens uniform. Ditto for Hal Gill. Unless he comes back next year for a short-term bargain, Pierre Gauthier may have to let him walk in favour of rebuilding the defence to be quicker and younger. James Wisniewski may be too expensive for the team's budget next year, and Benoit Pouliot may have played his way out of a contract. Worst of all, it seems inevitable that Kirk Muller will leave after the season ends. There are a lot of coaching jobs available, and he wants one of them. His departure would be a loss to the Habs, not only because the players love him and look to him for inspiration, but because he's the last link between the current team and the last edition of the Canadiens to win a Cup.

While we feel a bit down about the players who'll be leaving, we'll also have a good picture of who'll still be around next year. Some of that's great news. Lars Eller, David Desharnais and Ryan White have all stepped up their play in the post-season, which is great. Carey Price and P.K.Subban did their part to make the team competitive. We can look forward to the infusion of healthy Gorges, Markov and Pacioretty into the lineup next season, and it's starting to look like a pretty competitive team. Then we come to Scott Gomez. He has to go. Unless he can dramatically turn around a career that's seen declining production for the last several years, Gauthier's got to find a way to get rid of him. He had one good game out of five against the Bruins after the worst season of his career, and that's just not good enough. People will slam me for looking only at his salary, but in a cap world, that's vitally important. He's a major roadblock to improving the team because he makes too much to allow the purchase of better players. And not only is he keeping the team from playing the market for improvements, he's not generating points either. He's a liability the Canadiens can't afford going forward.

Whatever happens tonight, I'm sure the Habs will give it their best possible shot. In the end, that's some comfort if they lose, and some vindication if they win. It'd be a very nice birthday gift to see another miracle Game Six triumph, but if it doesn't happen, at least they tried.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Aftermath: Even

And so, the first four games in the playoffs now mean nothing. They're starting from scratch, and it's not going to be easy at all. The thing is, the Canadiens played the best they could last night.

Sure, people will pick them apart today. Why couldn't they keep up the intensity when they were up 3-1? Why did Price let in at least two soft goals, after being so solid all season? Why did the defence give up that fateful odd-man rush in OT? The answer to all of those questions is because they're human.

No team can keep up 60 minutes of intensity at the level the Canadiens showed in the first period. They get tired, the adrenaline doesn't pump at the same level and they slack off a little bit. Price was so great for most of the year, we forget nobody can be perfect all the time. The defence is old, slow and ham-handed and relying on a 21-year-old rookie to carry the bulk of the hard minutes. Mistakes will happen. In the end, the Canadiens played the best game they could, when you consider their human frailties. With their weak D and the number of forwards they carry who just can't score, they're not as deep as the Bruins. They're better when they play at the very limit of their abilities, but when they slack off, as is inevitable, the Bruins come back at them with their deeper, bigger, more opportunistic lineup.

I thought if the Canadiens lost Game Four, it would be the end of the series for them. It may still be, but we know this team has depths of character and grit that can help them punch above their weight. Watching David Desharnais take on Chara and Brian Gionta buzzing like a wasp's nest all night was inspiring, and so we can't count this team out. Andrei Kostitsyn is using his size and shot as he rarely did in the regular season, and Tomas Plekanec is doing a fabulous job containing the Krejci line. There's still hope. It's not the end of the world if they do lose, though.

We knew going into this that the Habs have a hard time scoring and their D isn't very good. (Watching Duncan Keith dominate for Chicago last night was enough to make you cry.) Those facts are now coming into play in the series, and it shouldn't be surprising. The two-game lead to start the series was great, but the Bruins weren't going to die easily. If we look at the positives, we know this can be a very good team with a couple of adjustments to the supporting cast, a healthy Pacioretty powering to the net to pump in big goals and Markov and Gorges back on D. In the meantime, they're doing the best they can with the players they have. It's not like they're not trying hard. They are. Mistakes will happen and there's nothing we fans can do about it except hope for fewer of them next time.

Honestly, I'm not expecting the Canadiens to win the series. I'm also not expecting them to lose it. We're down to a best-of-three and if there's one thing this team is good at, it's the unexpected.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bruins vs. Habs - Game Four

Notes on the third:

-Both of Bergeron's goals in this series have been scored because Gomez was supposed to be checking him and lost him.

-Habs finally get a PP and Subban buries it deeper than the original Jerusalem.

-Losing all the faceoffs is very worrisome.

-My hands are shaking too hard to type. How the hell did that scramble not result in a Bs goal?

-And after ten minutes of the Habs playing to not lose, the Bs tie it up. Moen's been softer than baby jammies on the boards in this period.

-What a chance to take it on the late PP. OT may kill me.

Notes on the second:

-If the Canadiens had three more of White, they'd be unstoppable.

-Oh man. Ryder? Price has to have that one, although it didn't help that Spacek was totally caught.

-Necessary in-game adjustment: Get Moen OFF the Gomez/Gionta line. He's now missed FOUR open nets.

-Cammalleri! The first attempt would have been pure gold, but the second one still counts. It's kind of like if The Godfather Three came out first.

-And Kostitsyn! Stick on the ice and boom! It's great to see him smile.

-Uh oh. The two-goal lead is affecting the urgency in a bad way.

-And just as I type that, a long floater beats Price over the glove. Hammer makes a better door than a window.

-Price looks shaky. He's looking around a lot and dropping the puck when he's got it.

-Charming, yet expected, Bruins behaviour out of Ference in giving the fans the finger.

-And the Bruins tie it up because neither Gomez or Hamrlik wanted to take a hit.

-I'm not confident about the third.

Notes on the first:

-I'm more nervous than a spinster librarian in a frat house.

-During the anthems, Price is stretching in a way he never does. Cammalleri looks like he wants to drill holes in the ice with his eyes.

-Tentative start for both teams. They feel this one is pretty momentous.

-Fabulous work by Desharnais and Cammalleri, and Sopel picks a great time to nail his first as a Hab.

-On the shift right after the goal, Eller wove through the Bs like a Turkish carpet maker.

-Poor Moen. Always in the right place, but has the finish of a split log.

-Gionta's like a make-and-break motor: Not that big, but rarely quits and gets you home through the storm.

-Gomez looks alive tonight.

-DD's taking the puck off Chara on the PK is literally David vs.Goliath. He could tell you what kind of deoderant Chara wears...if he wore any.

-Nice period. I have a feeling the Habs'll need another couple of goals to make this stand up.

Habs Notebook: Game Day

As we wait for puck drop on Game Four, a few thoughts:

-This game will decide the series. The more I think about the mental aspects of this, the more I'm convinced the momentum gained by a win tonight will propel the victor to take the whole thing. The Canadiens need to play this one like it's Game Seven, because, for them, it might just be that important.

-On the Benoit Pouliot situation: I think Pouliot's been no more or less ineffective than a guy like Ryder's been for Boston. However, with Jeff Halpern ready to come back, somebody had to sit. Unfortunately for Pouliot, he's contributed the least to the series so far. Halpern does the things the team needs to do if it hopes to win: playing sound defence, going to the net hard, winning faceoffs. Pouliot doesn't really do any of those things better than Halpern, and Halpern also puts himself in a better position to score than Pouliot does. It's too bad. Pouliot's combination of size and talent is so tantalizing, but he just can't seem to put it together with any kind of consistency. Maybe it's because he doesn't see eye-to-eye with the coaching staff, or maybe it's just a fatal flaw in his own makeup. Either way, it's disappointing to see so much unused potential.

-Pouliot may be scratched for Halpern, but David Desharnais would have been next on the list. This isn't the same sparkplug we saw earlier in the year. Maybe he's playing hurt, or maybe he's tired, or teams have just figured him out. He's doing some things well, but he's not in the crease as often as he was when he started with the Habs. Perhaps it's tied to Pouliot's drop in play. If he's going to win himself a spot for next year, though, Desharnais has to become more of a factor.

-What a change in circumstances for Carey Price! This time last year, he was opening the gate for teammates coming back to the bench while Jaro Halak owned the goal crease. Fellow Habs were talking about how Price was learning how to be a better professional and working hard during his exile. This year, Price is the one calling out teammates for a lack of professionalism before Game Three. Amazingly, the veterans are agreeing with him. Price has gone from cocky kid to respected leader in the room, and it's great to see. He's earned it.

-Lots of Habs fans are crying about P.K.Subban getting passed over for the Calder Trophy. They shouldn't, because the voters always tend to look at pure numbers rather than the intangibles like what a particular player means to his team. When it came down to it, the three guys who got nominated scored thirty goals apiece, which is pretty impressive. In the meantime, the Canadiens have a 21-year-old who's become not only his team's number-one defenceman, but played a big part in getting that team to the playoffs; something the young nominees can't claim. Subban will be a powerhouse on defence for the Canadiens for many years to come, and I wouldn't trade him for any of the guys with Calder nods. We should remember, too, that Sidney Crosby got passed over for the Calder, and he's done okay for himself.

-I don't usually agree with Jack Todd. He's too much of a bandwagon-jumper, is too harsh a critic and gives too little credit for the kinds of subtle player contributions that don't smack you in the face with their obviousness. I have to say, though, I didn't realize Scott Gomez had spent a minute and a half on the ice when the Habs were trying to tie the game the other night. I remember the Gomez missed chance right at the end and thinking if only Plekanec had that shot. Turns out he probably should have had it, but Gomez wouldn't get off the ice. It's good he wants to help the team, but if he's going to actually do it, he has to understand his limitations and let better-quality teammates do what they can. I thought Gomez was great in Game One, but not quite as good since. He'll have to pick it up and be smarter if the Habs are to advance.

-Bruins fans, en masse, are pretty horrible. I don't remember reading Habs fans wishing death on Chara when he was sick and couldn't play, but Bruins fans are posting horrible things all over the 'net about the Habs. They want Chara to do to someone else what he did to Max Pacioretty. They want Lucic to maul Gionta or Thornton to take out Subban's knees. They're a bloodthirsty bunch, and they, more than anything, make me pray the Habs put their team out of the playoffs. Again.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


This Sunday marks the 60th anniversary of a very important battle in what has become a largely forgotten war for Canada. It was on April 24, 1951 that the 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, numbering about 700 men, faced down 6000 Chinese troops in the Kapyong Valley during the Korean War.

The battle was fierce and it was dirty. The Chinese poured in on the Canadian position; one that American and South Korean forces had already abandoned as a lost cause, all night. Sometime during the night, the Australian forces who'd been backing up the Canadians were overrun and retreated. The Canadians stood alone. There were too many heroes to count. One man lost a hand as he grabbed a live grenade and threw it away from his vulnerable buddies. Another took five bullets, including one in the heart (which he miraculously survived) and refused to leave his machine gun post through it all.

Before dawn on April 25, the Chinese withdrew and the battered Canadian forces were left in command of Hill 677. A group made completely of salesmen, schoolboys, construction workers...kept the mighty Chinese army out of Seoul against all the odds. Astonishingly, only ten Canadians died in the vicious fighting. The men whose bodies were recovered, however, were found in twos. They'd been sent into battle in pairs, with the understanding that they'd have their buddy's back. They did, to the end.

Former television foreign correspondant and documentary maker Dan Bjarnason has written a book about the battle, called "Triumph at Kapyong," because he thinks Canadians need to know more about an ordinary bunch who went to war and became great, if unrecognized, heroes. He says the actions of those guys help define us as Canadians.

I'm loathe to compare hockey players to soldiers at war, but I spoke with Dan Bjarnason about his book today, and he made the point that the soldiers at Kapyong were really Everyman. Their actions were the actions of typical Canadians. This is what he said about the morale of the men who fought at that forgotten Korean battle:

"These soldiers believed in themselves. Morale, I think, and many military experts think, is more important than the type of weapons you've got, what kinds of uniforms or technology you've got. Without morale, none of them matter. An American Civil War general, I think it was General Mead, said "All a general can do is get his men to the battlefield. At that point, it's up to the men to do the fighting." Well, our guys did this fighting. They met three of these mass attacks, and there was fighting in the trenches with shovels and rocks and hand grenades. Some units were running out of ammunition. Foxholes were lost and retaken. They held off these Chinese soldiers because they had this unbelievable belief that they were the best people on the hill, and they were going to prove it. It sounds a little Hollywoodish and it sounds like a recruiting slogan, but it was actually true. There was no bravado to these guys. They just thought they were the best soldiers and they fought like it. It never occurred to them that they were actually going to lose."

That's an incredible testimonial to the power of positive thinking and belief in oneself and one's brothers-in-arms. If the Montreal Canadiens can achieve even a semblance of that kind of morale, they will do great things. They might not all be Canadian, but they're all hockey players who share a core set of team values.

Sometimes, all you have to do is believe the work you're doing will have the results you want. Seven hundred soldiers who fought off six thousand on a Korean night sixty years ago should be remembered for teaching us that lesson. There could be no finer example for those who fight their battles on a hockey rink; their goal a silver trophy rather than a lonely hilltop half a world away.

Aftermath: Preparation

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.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Bruins vs.Habs - Game Three

Notes on the second:

-Nice PK. Then Price gives the game away. I guess he gets some slack, considering what he's done for the team, but that was pretty awful.

-Too bad the timeout is gone. They need it now worse than they did in the first.

-Nobody winning the battles they won in Boston. Even Ryder's beating them on the boards.

-And a too-many-men penalty. Typical of the Habs when they're in panic mode.

-Price is giving up Thomasian rebounds tonight.

-Kostitsyn stripped both Chara and Thomas for his goal. Their denuded carcasses were warmed only by the warm glow of the red light.

-Pleks is getting way too Gomez on the puck, lugging it into the zone by himself.

-The Krejci line is dominating.

-Subban WILLED that puck to stay in on the PP. Too bad nobody else can match his intensity.

-Unless we see a very different Habs team in the third, the Bs are back in this.

Notes on the first:

-Why does it feel like every game in this series is more important and momentous than the one before it?

-Fantastic to see Mr.Beliveau there with the torch. Oh, do the Habs ever know how to do ceremony right?! I expect if they ever get to the Finals, there'll be an entire pantheon of the greats there in support.

-Crappy, jittery PP leads to a great Bs chance and their first lead of the series. Habs are not playing the same game tonight.

-AK's looking great early.

-Habs look like a 33 played at 45 speed.

-When the makeup calls come, these failed PPs are going to hurt.

-Subban hit Lucic like Doomsday.

-Spacek may have made the single dumbest pinch of the year, and Gomez took a stupid penalty. When your vets are stupid, you don't win many games.

-Sigh. Bruins winning more races than the Kenyans and a softie on Price. Habs aren't playing their game.

-I always judge the likelihood of winning a game by who's getting to loose pucks first. Tonight, it's the team in white. I hate it, but it's true.

-Terrible, terrible period. Habs were outchanced, outshot, outworked and outscored. If this doesn't change in the next two periods, this series is going to get scary.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Aftermath: Control

It's funny, when pundits build up a series, they usually look at inexperience as a detriment to a team's chances. Yet, when the Canadiens hit the ice last night with four players who'd never played a minute of NHL post-season hockey before Thursday, they didn't look green. Ryan White, Lars Eller, David Desharnais and Yannick Weber looked ready and like they knew exactly how playoff hockey is suppopsed to be played. Rather than being a drag on the team, they were its spark.

In this, credit must go to Jacques Martin. While he spent the season nailing rookies to the bench after a single mistake, now, when it counts, he's putting his trust in them. The Cammalleri and Darche goals and the great saves by Carey Price were the most important difference-makers in last night's game. Two moments outside those, however, really underlined the depth of support on the team.

The first was after a particularly nasty sequence which, in an ordinary game, would call for some sort of retaliation. White was about to explode and pick a fight, but Martin reeled him in, and the camera caught the coach with his arms around the kid, talking him down. White went out and channelled his anger into forechecking like a man possessed.

The second moment saw Eller, who'd been tough on the boards all game, holding off four Bruins as the Habs maintained their control and two-goal lead late in the third. This is a kid who's accepted that he's going to have to spend time learning the pro game and has taken his lumps with good grace. He's going to be a good offensive player someday, but his job right now is to be the third-line support centreman and check the daylights out of the other team. He's doing an excellent job of it, too.

Honourable mention for a defining moment was Yannick Weber, playing up as a third-line checker, leaping on Eller's rebound for the insurance goal that broke Bruins fans hearts.

The Canadiens are doing what they're supposed to be doing. They're using their speed to advantage, exercising discipline and doing a good job killing off the penalties they do take. They're blocking shots and getting between the Bruins and the goal. Price is seeing just about everything, and making the saves when it counts. His puck handling is helping the defence compensate for a general lack of quickness. Everybody's going the extra distance to get to loose pucks first and pushing a bit harder to win the battles. These were all things we knew they could do if they tried.

What we didn't know was how the kids would respond to the need to play that faster, more disciplined, self-sacrificing style that wins playoff games. That's why inexperience is so often a liability in the assessment of a team's chances. We know a little bit now about what we can expect from the young guys. We know they respect their teammates who've been there before, and they're following the example of guys like Gionta, Gill, Gomez, Moen and Sopel. We know the kids can make a positive difference, which is vital if the Canadiens are to achieve any level of post-season success. Whatever happens in this post-season, the experience these young players are getting and the lessons they're learning about how to win when it counts will be really important when they're the ones leading the playoff drive.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Habs vs.Bruins - Game Two

Notes on the third:

-The Canadiens are committed to grabbing rebounds. Good thing, too, since Price didn't see a couple of those shots.

-Price, though, he's been excellent.

-Really, the biggest problem for the Habs has been faceoffs. If they won a few more draws, the Bs'd be in even bigger trouble.

-They're double-teaming Subban, and it's working.

-Eller's playing like someone dropped acid in his cup.

-The Habs kids are killing the Bs vets.

-Pleks can't even hit the empty net.

-Ah, the glorious sound of Bruins fans booing their team off the ice. So, so sweet.

Notes on the second:

-Great PK to start the period. The boys look determined.

-The PP, on the other hand, leaves something to be desired.

-PLEKY! The chances he's had with no results are like a 75-year-old trying to conceive.

-Pyatt's playing a hell of a game. He's working like a steam engine.

-Just as I was thinking Gomez wasn't playing as well as he did in Game One, he stands still on Bergeron and the Bs are on the board.

-Too many penalties. Our guys have to be smarter.

-Weber!! Gorgeous opportunistic backhander by the fourth line that's been beating the Bs to the puck all night.

-Another great period. One more and we can start playing Big Sugar's "Diggin' A Hole"

Notes on the first:

-Unreal. P.J.Stock on heat: Big guys feel the heat more and start to break down when it's too warm. Huh? Is that because heat rises or something?

-Chara's out. Big deal. Teams compensate in the playoffs, and the Bruins will still be just as determined without him.

-Don't like missing Kostitsyn. He'd been using his size really well against the Bs.

-Way to start it! Cammalleri snipes before it's a minute old.

-Ah! Thomas handles the puck like a grenade and if anybody but Pyatt has the empty net, it's 2-0.

-The first hands-on coaching I've ever seen from Jacques the Knife, literally. As White's about to go off like a rocket, Martin puts his arms around him and calms him down. The Hothead Whisperer.

-Brilliant PP. It must have lasted a whole five seconds.

-Price outright robbed Lucic. The Boston PD will be called to investigate.

-The big fear here is that the Habs may think they've got it won already and slack off.

-Refs are doing a good job keeping the gate of the gorilla cage latched.

-My eight-year-old just said: "Hockey games are interesting. They're like a big epic battle."

-Great period. Everyone's gutting it out. Didn't know the shots were 15-8 for the Bs. Didn't seem like it.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Aftermath: One Down

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.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Habs vs.Bruins - Game One

Notes on the third:

-If Gionta's goal turns out to be the only one the Habs score tonight, I may go into defib.

-Everybody's trying so hard. No passengers on the Greyhound tonight.

-Wisniewski's made a couple of really nice D plays. That's a relief.

-Moen's probably the weakest link tonight. Not winning on the boards and fumbling passes.

-Pyatt skates like he had blades instead of feet as a kid.

-Sopel's deflecting shots like a good comedian.

-THE CAPTAIN AGAIN!!! On a BRILLIANT play by Gomez, no less. WOW!!

-That overgrown gorilla Chara lost it on Pleks. What a cretin.

-Amazing. Just amazing. Three more to go.

Notes on the second:

-NOT good news for AK to be hurt. This team honestly has the luck of the Irsh. During the potato famine.

-Subban's skating would have inspired Michelangelo.

-The refs aren't letting them play. They're trying to control a game that's already under control.

-Sometimes, you'd really like to put White's head on Gill's body, just to see what a wrecking machine he could be.

-The PK's working really well, but it's getting too much practice.

-Pleks has had more chances than the Prodigal Son.

-Love Muller's patriotic tie.

-Shots in the period were 18-6. Nice to see The System back in full force. Price has been solid.

Notes on the first:

-Going all hot and cold here, and the game is still five minutes from puck drop.

-I know all the Habs aren't exactly lookers, but half the Bruins are pretty deformed.

-That Bs anthem singer sounds like Paul Anka swallowed a vibrator.

-Close-up of Porn Star Timmy. He looks ready.

-Boston fan towels are yellow. How apropos.

-Nice rush by Plekanec to get things going. Gomez looks interested.

-I wonder if Subban can drive them nuts enough to forget their game plan?

-THE CAPTAIN!! Nice set-up by Gomez too, with Darche's ass in TT's face. Perfect execution for that line.

-Late shot by P.K. on Lucic, with no call. Kid's got to be smarter or he'll get it next time.

-The D, outside Subban, is scary at moving the puck. That and the ineffectiveness of guys like Moen and Pyatt at winning the battles are the biggest weaknesses so far.

-Faceoffs are not great either.

-Great PK. The Bs barely touched it.

-Eller's playing a really frazzled game. He needs to take his time.

-Excellent period. Two more like that to keep the Bs worried.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Pep Talk

The Scene: Canadiens dressing room, TD Garden, one hour before Game One versus Bruins. Players are half-dressed, waiting. Jacques Martin strides in and takes his place in the middle of the room.

Martin: (clears throat, clasps hands behind back, observes ceiling) Okay, boys. Here we are. Again. Everybody expects us to lose. Again. Not me. I know we can do this job. We worked on The System all year. We don't score much. That's true. But we can block shots. It doesn't take much skill for that. You don't have to be fast or smart or very big to throw yourself down in front of a puck. That's what I'm asking you to do. Carey's the guy wearing the pads, but you can all be goalies too. How can a team with twenty goalies lose?
Scott Gomez: (aside to Brian Gionta) When's the last time twenty goalies scored a goal?
Gionta: Probably since the last time you scored one, Gomer.
Martin: Gentlemen? Is there something you'd like to add?
Gionta: No, coach. You've got the floor.
Martin: Okay. Let's talk assignments. Hal and P.K. You guys are going to have a lot of minutes tonight. You're going to be responsible for stopping the Krejci/Horton/Lucic line. You're also going to be responsible for containing the Bergeron line. And you two will kill the penalties. P.K., you'll also set up the PP while Hal grabs a breather. Carey, you'll be responsible for moving the puck up to Hal and P.K. The rest of you, block shots.
Subban: (whispers to Gill) Skillsie, am I supposed to play 30+ minutes? That's a lot.
Gill: No, kid. Sounds like you're playing 60. Have fun. And don't forget to block shots. You're a goalie now.
Martin: (ignoring Subban's giggle) Patience and discipline, gentlemen. Those are the skills that will win the day for our group. We wait with patience, we block shots and when we see an opportunity, we leap on it. And discipline. We must stay out of the box. I can't stress that enough. If we give these guys too many chances, they'll burn us. Yes, Larry?
Lars Eller: (timidly raising hand) Um, coach? What if a guy has a breakaway? Is it okay to trip him then?
Martin: (sighs) Yes. If there's no other choice, you do what you have to do.
Eller: But, coach, are the rules for getting benched the same in the playoffs? I don't want to miss the whole series.
Martin: Don't worry about getting benched. Just be smart and work hard, and you'll be fine.
Brent Sopel: (humming Don't Fear the Reaper)
Mike Cammalleri: Coach, can you go over our offensive strategy one last time?
Martin: Well, I've been focusing on the D mostly. But, you should shoot the puck. If you shoot a lot, some of them will go in. Oh, and go to the front of the net. Now, about shot blocking, I want to stress how important it is against this team.
Andrei Kostitsyn: (hopefully) Shoot pack? Score goal?!
Martin: Yes, Andrei. Shoot the puck. But don't forget blocking shots. You have to be a goalie too.
Kostitsyn: Yes. Shoot pack.
Martin: (sighs) Andrei, just follow Plekanec and do what he does, okay? Now, I can't tell you any more. You know what you have to do. So...go, men. Take it to them! (pumps fist and blushes slightly)

Martin nods, pats a couple of guys on the shoulder in passing and heads back to the coach's room.

Roman Hamrlik: Anybody know what Coach just said?
Jaroslav Spacek: Vím, že nic. Já jsem nejnudnější člověk na světě. Můj prst je v mém nose.
Tomas Plekanec: (giggles helplessly)
Gionta: (rolls eyes) Kirky? You got something you wanna say? We're listening.

Kirk Muller, leaning against a back wall, straightens and strides to the middle of the room

Muller: Okay guys. We've been through the video and the meetings. Now it's time to take what we talked about out there and do it on the ice. I believe in you. I know what you can do, and if you believe it too, you can make it happen. The most important thing is to trust yourself and the guy next to you. Have each other's backs, but don't be stupid and get sucked into their game. Tommy? Do you believe you can do this?
Tom Pyatt: Um, yeah, Kirky.
Muller: No, Tommy. Do you BELIEVE?!
Pyatt: (with a little more enthusiasm) Yeah!
Muller: Tommy. DO YOU BELIEVE!?!
Muller: Davey? Do YOU believe?
David Desharnais: YES!!
Muller: What about you, Whitey?
Ryan White: YEAH! I BELIEVE!!
Muller: You hear that, guys? These kids believe they can win this game. They're looking for you to show them how it's done. I believe in you too, so let's go win this!

Muller walks out to a chorus of clapping and cheering.

Martin: (listening from the coach's room, picks up the phone and dials) Yeah, Lou? He's available. You'd better not wait, though. Joe's already called from Dallas and Dale's interested too. He'll be gone soon.
Perry Pearn: (eavesdropping and grinning) Jacques? Do you believe we can do it? Do you BELIEVE?!
Martin: (glaring icily) Shut up, Perry.
Pearn: Right.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Top Ten Intangibles That Will Make the Difference

We've already heard lots about the big factors that will help decide the Canadiens/Bruins playoff series. We know Carey Price will have to out-goal Tim Thomas. Guys like Michael Cammalleri, Brian Gionta and Andrei Kostitsyn will have to find a way to beat Chara and score goals. Tomas Plekanec and Jeff Halpern must play a strong, thinking-man's shut-down game. Hal Gill and his ten-foot stick will have to block more rubber than a flak jacket during war games. Jacques Martin and Kirk Muller have to make sure every man on the team knows his job and the right people are on the ice at the right time. Overall, every pundit in the business has regaled us with "speed versus strength" as the defining contest of the series. We know all this.

If there's one thing that defines a successful playoff team, though, it's that every single person on the team contributes in some way. Remember last year? Sure, Cammalleri and Halak led the team, but the two goals in the Game Seven win against the Caps came from Marc-Andre Bergeron and Dominic Moore. Everyone (with the possible exception of Kostitsyn, who had a hat trick against Washington in a Game Two loss, then nothing) had some role, little or big, in the whole team performance. With that in mind, here are the top ten out-of-the-spotlight things that need to happen for the Habs to win:

10. Travis Moen, Ryan White and Tom Pyatt. The Canadiens don't have the big fourth line the Bruins have. Moen, White and Pyatt will be in tough along the boards against those big guys, and they'll have to reach a little deeper and push a little harder to keep the Canadiens in the hunt. A lot will depend on their ability to fight above their weight in the trenches.

9. David Desharnais. Desharnais has always been a playoff performer, and his ability to score a vital goal or two while the Habs' bigger scoring threats are under cover, could be vital. He's quick and creative and if he's up against the non-Chara part of the Boston defence, he should get his chances.

8. Jaro Spacek. Spatcho isn't as young or agile as he used to be, and his offence has dropped off since his time in Buffalo. He knows how to play in the post-season, though. Last year, he played a helluva shut-down game against the Caps before falling to injury. Now, coming back from surgery, he's not as tired as he was last year and he says his knee feels better than it did before his operation. He could be the injection of rested experience the D needs.

7. Team discipline. Everyone knows the Habs can't have their parade along the usual route to the penalty box if they hope to win. They have to refrain from taking the dumbass, thoughtless hooking and holding penalties that have plagued them throughout the regular season. More than that, however, team discipline means turning the other cheek and refraining from retaliation if the Bruins play dirty. It's always the retaliator who seems to get caught, so the Canadiens need to turn outrage into speed and let the Bruins go to the box instead.

6. Self-sacrifice. The Canadiens can expect to spend a lot of time defending and protecting Price during this series. If they're going to be successful, they have to take a lot of pain and block a lot of shots. If they're prepared to do that, they have a chance.

5. Scott Gomez. Somehow, the Habs managed to finish sixth in the conference even while their highest-paid player, who's supposed to produce as a top-two centre should, was more of a hindrance than a help all season.
It astounded me when, during the leafs game on Saturday, HNIC showed highlights of Gomez' play during his rookie season. He was going to the net, grabbing rebounds and screening the goalie. In short, he was behaving like a top-six centre. So. He can do it. He's got the skills to do it. If Gomez decides to crank up his game, he could be a difference-maker. It would be as though the Habs landed a top-line contributor out of nowhere, and that could change the Bruins strategy, and the series.

4. The fans. Yes, the Bruins fans are loud. They're also nasty and passionate. The Canadiens fans, on the other hand, are the the reason the word "fan" was invented in the first place. Whereas Bs fans will cry, drink and move on to the Red Sox, the Canadiens fans live, breathe and die for their Habs. When the team needs a seventh man, he's there, palpable in the throbbing emotion from the stands and in the city all around. I think that passion helped drive last year's playoff run, and it will do so again.

3. History. It's a double-edged sword in this case. The regular season ended with an embarrassing loss that could play into the series, if players weren't so blinkered about dismissing the regular season once the playoffs begin. So, long-term history will be played as a factor in the series, and the Canadiens hold the edge. Bruins fans and some of the players know the score, and if the Canadiens get any kind of foothold on the series, the inevitable sense of doom will start to descend. In the Bruins case, it's not just their history with the Canadiens, it's also their history with the playoffs. This same team committed the biggest choke in NHL history last season. If they get into any kind of deficit against the Habs, that will come back to haunt them. Along the same vein, the Canadiens have their heroic and unexpected run from last year in their immediate rear-view mirror. They believe they can overachieve. The Bs know they can choke. History is a factor.

2. Luck. I've always said no team can win the Stanley Cup without skill, determination, sacrifice and luck. The only thing the Canadiens can't control is the luck. The way a puck bounces, the way a ref sees a play or the instinct that drives a goalie to slide left instead of right on a breakaway; it's all luck. Sometimes the luck goes for a team and sometimes, like when a hot team's captain gets cut down with a stick in the eye, it's against it. The bounces...the luck...are one of the biggest intangibles in any playoff series, and they'll help decide the winner.

And the number-one intangible that will make a difference in this series:

1. Motivation. Every pro player wants to win the Stanley Cup more than anything. They don't need to be horsewhipped to get up for games. Sometimes, though, they need a word of inspired wisdom to help push them to a higher level. The Canadiens have a secret weapon in Kirk Muller. Muller's been a Habs captain and a Cup winner in Montreal. He can speak the players' language in a way that neither Jacques Martin nor Claude Julien can. Last year, when someone needed to speak up before Game Seven in the Caps series, Muller was the one who took the lead. When the team needs a game plan in the late minutes when it's down a goal, Muller's the one who mans the white board. Nobody else with the coaching staff of either team, save Doug Jarvis, who's never been known for his inspirational speeches, can bring that level of experience and intensity to the pep-talk part of the game. I have no doubt Muller was a major reason for the Canadiens performance last year, and I have no doubt if his players buy in, that he can bring them to that level again.

The Canadiens have a chance to win this series if the big things like Price, Subban, Gionta, Cammalleri and special teams go in their favour. What'll make a chance a reality are the intangibles. If those favour the Habs, the series is theirs. It can be done. It won't be easy, but it can be done.

Why These Playoffs Might Kill Me

I'm afraid I may not make it through the playoffs this year. As each year passes with no Cup for the Canadiens, I come to realize each opportunity is precious. I was young when the Habs won in '93, and, with the optimism of youth, thought I'd surely see another victory in the near future. Since then, I've graduated from university, established a career, got married, had kids and travelled the world. I've also aged 18 years and am facing the reality that I won't live forever and may, in fact, be dead before the Habs win again. So, every year, the stress about wasting another precious chance grows.

Last year was a blessed reprieve from the annual angst because I had very little hope entering the playoffs. The Habs had scraped into eighth in the last week of the season and were facing the powerhouse Capitals. Looking at it on paper, the Canadiens had an untried bunch of hired guns coming off a very up-and-down year, with an unproven playoff goalie. They should have had no chance, so I approached it accordingly. The win in the first game was sweep! Going down three games to one was exactly what I expected to happen after that first win. Then the comeback started and each win was exciting, but not stressful. After all, they'd surely lose the next one, right? Then they didn't. The only stress I felt during the Caps series was during the last two minutes of Game Seven, when the Canadiens were clinging to a one-goal lead and had a real chance to win, against all the odds.

The same thing happened during the Penguins series. Surely, the luck of the Caps series wouldn't extend to beating the defending Cup champions, I thought. So, every win was just gravy until the Habs, once again, found themselves in the lead in an improbable Game Seven. The Flyers series...well, nobody expected the Canadiens' luck to hold so it was no surprise when they ran out of gas.

This year's different. The Canadiens have beaten the Bruins four times out of six this season. We know they can win the series. That gives us hope, and that means we're vulnerable to hope getting dashed. It was way easier, even zen-like, to enter last year's playoffs with no real expectation. Hoping to beat the Bruins is going to make us sweat every play, wring our hands over every goal against and descend into bitterness after every loss. We're going to go from the heights of joy when the Habs score to the depths of regret when the Bruins do. Our hearts will be working at a minimum 75% of capacity all the time, and we'll be dreaming of the thing Kostitsyn or Cammalleri or Gill should have done instead of the thing they did for nights at a time.

The matter will not be helped by the level of Bruins hate that will colour this series. I hate Chara and his mindless destruction of Max Pacioretty. I hate Lucic and his simian tendencies. I hate Thornton and his smug ability to score garbage goals against the Canadiens. I hate Thomas and his fat doughboy face with its stupid mustache. I hate Julien and his tendency to throw his goonish players out at the end of a lost-cause game. I hate Bruins fans with their "U.S.A." chant and their bloodlust. I hate their colours and their logo and their rink and their anthem singer. All that hate means I'm yearning for a Habs win, and that makes the stress level double.

In short, this series might kill me. The hope, expectation and hatred will combine in a toxic stress cocktail that could cause heart failure at any moment. I want to beat the Bruins so badly, it magnifies everything. The only thing that lends this any kind of perspective is imagining the level of stress that would be involved if the opponent were the leafs instead of the Bruins. I think that would unquestionably be fatal, so perhaps there's a chance of surviving the Bruins series. And the thought of a win...oh, a win against the Bruins! so sweet. The series might kill me, but a win could raise me from the dead.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Endings and Beginnings

I didn't really know what to write today. On one hand, it was nice to see the Canadiens end their season on such a positive note by beating the leafs. On the other, it's always a bit sad to see another year, with all its ups and downs, draw to a close. During the regular season, there's always another game for redemption and another chance to fix mistakes. Moving on to the playoffs is more fun, but a lot scarier, because every decision counts and expectations are magnified. The start of the playoffs also means hockey's on borrowed time and long months of quiet stretch ahead.

Looking back now, I'm pretty proud of how the team survived this season. The emergence of Carey Price and P.K.Subban has been a joy to watch, and, to some degree, offset the horror of seeing Andrei Markov and Max Pacioretty go down to injury.

Price has unquestionably been the biggest success story of the season. Back in September, he came to camp as the greatest unknown of the year. Would he be able to rebound from his lousy campaign in 2009-10? Would he withstand the pressure of knowing the team's fortunes rested pretty much solely with him? And would he be able to placate a disgruntled fanbase in the wake of the Jaro Halak trade? The answers to those questions looked like they'd be in the negative after a poor showing in the first pre-season game, followed by a bunch of stupid booing and Price's succinct post-game "Chill out." As it blessedly turned out, he was right. The goalie has risen from trade bait to team MVP in just a few months, with a newfound maturity and ability to shrug off a bad goal.

Subban is the other great story of the season. The kid is brash, fearless and a really, really good hockey player. He probably won't win the rookie of the year award, or even be nominated, but when we look back at this season's freshman class ten years from now, I expect Subban stands a good chance of being the biggest star on the list. It's not been easy for him. He's been benched, booed and criticized by every scrub reporter and bush-league opponent with an agenda of one kind or another. Through it all, his unbridled joy in playing and rapidly developing skills have thrilled us.

On the flip side, the year has been one of disappointments too. The injuries, obviously are one. No other playoff team has had to deal with the long-term loss of both its top offensive and its top defensive defencemen. Forwards, even great forwards, can be backfilled for a time. The loss of defencemen who play 25 minutes a night, control the special teams and face the other team's best forwards cost a team more. The Canadiens might have had an even better season with both Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges in the lineup. The devastating injury to Pacioretty, just as he was emerging as the power forward the Canadiens had hoped he'd be, was demoralizing for the team because of both his of actual loss and the manner of it.

The bigger disappointment, however, was the general underachievement of just about every forward on the team. With not a single 30-goal or 60-point scorer among them, it's hard to imagine them competing against teams like the Canucks, with two 40+ goal scorers and the league leaders with 75 assists and 104 points. Whether the injuries to the defence have forced Martin to play a more hermetic team style, or he'd have just chosen that game strategy anyway, it didn't work for the Habs. It probably helped prevent a lot of goals, but it kept the Canadiens off the board as well. The paucity of goalscoring from players who've all had better seasons has been a major let-down this year.

And now, the Bruins. Again. Some fans say they're afraid of Boston. They're so rough and big and skilled, and their goalie owns the league save-percentage record. There's no doubt they'll be a tough out. The Canadiens have proven this year that they can beat Boston. This series will depend on the continued success of Subban and Price, and a reversal of the year's disappointments. The Canadiens can't afford to lose anybody else to injury, and they have to start scoring goals. If they can do that, they'll have history and the knack of getting into Thomas' head on their side. Good goaltending and team discipline will do the rest.

It's always a bit sad to say goodbye to another season. There are so many moments you'd love to relive and so many others you'd love to have another shot at. The playoffs offer a chance to start over with new moments and opportunities. I'm looking forward to it.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Habs vs.leafs - Full Circle Edition

Notes on the third:

-Might have been a good idea to sit Hammer for the third and put Weber back on D. But what do I know?

-Stunning footage of Gomez actually scoring goals in his rookie season, showing the contrast between his intensity then versus now.

-P.K. with the full-body sprawl to prevent a leaf shot. Wonder where he learned that?

-Cammalleri couldn't buy a goal with Gomez' money.

-No goal after Price slams the glove down as the puck crosses the line. That was very close.

-Wow! Then he robs Kessel point-blank. Price looks ready.

-Two kids behind the Habs bench have a sign reading "Nobody likes the Habs." That's right kid. Nobody likes them. They LOVE them!!

-Six hundred wins for Martin. Why am I not more excited?

-Bring on the Bs.

Notes on the second:

-Pyatt might have hands of cement on offence, but he can move the puck really well in his own zone. If he were bigger, he'd be a great stay-at-home defenceman.

-Habs are looking scramblier than eggs.

-Weber should have had a penalty shot.

-Nice to see White throw Phaneuf into the bench. Love that kid.

-I haven't looked at the stats for faceoffs tongiht, but it seems like the Habs have lost every one.

-Oh no. Hammer's down. Penguin's worried. Me too.

-Cammalleri's trying hard, but his GPS is off.

-Price has the best seat in the house for watching Subban wind up and go.

-The captain's so good in close. One more to get the team a thirty-goal man.

-One more period to bring it home. If they win, they should salute the leafs' fans at centre ice.

Notes on the first:

-Habs don't need to win this game, but they do need a strong effort to launch the playoff drive.

-White! All he needs is the fight and the assist.

-Spoke too soon. Now all he needs is the assist.

-Gorgeous pass from Gomez to set up Gionta. Perhaps he's going to get his head out of his ass for the playoffs.

-Price getting a bit too brave here. Almost gave the leafs a consolation prize.

-It'd be great to see Subban tie the team D scoring record.

-What is this alternative universe? THe HNIC crew effusively praising P.K.

-Softie on Price. Too bad, because the team was giving him a chance for a shutout.

-At least the Habs look like they care tonight. Another couple of goals would be nice.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Aftermath: Motivation

It's a constant source of amazement to me how a group of hockey players, with a goal and the determination to achieve it, can rise above their individual skill levels to achieve great things. It's the story of the underdog, and we saw the Canadiens do it last playoffs. It's equally amazing that the same group, without that goal or determination, can become a disjointed collection of individuals, unable to do much of anything.

We'll have to hope the Habs will have a goal and find the collective will to play for it during the playoffs, because if they approach Game One against whomever like they took on the Sens last night, they might as well give up the ghost now. That was one lousy hockey game. It's probably unfair to contrast it with a gem like the one against Chicago, but you can't really help seeing the difference between a motivated, focused Canadiens team and whatever the hell they were doing last night.

Admittedly, they were coming off the emotional high of clinching their playoff spot in a great game on Tuesday and were probably not too driven last night. Every team is allowed to have those motivation holidays once in a while, especially after a game in which they've given their all. They did get a point, despite a pretty abyssmal team effort, so that's good.

Now, though, it's time to shake off the lethargy and get down to business. The concern after a game like last night's is that the gentle mental relief that comes from coasting can become contagious. It's like working long hours hauling cement on a construction site for months, then taking a vacation in Hawaii. When it's time to go back to the construction job, you drag your feet and have a hard time getting up on the first morning. For a team like the Habs, which can't win without absolute commitment, slipping into holiday mode can be dangerous.

The Toronto game tomorrow will be a test for the Canadiens. Even though the leafs will be golfing next week, they've been playing hard since the All-Star break, and they'll bring it against the hated Habs. The Canadiens don't really need to win the game, but they have to be competitive. They'll be going into the playoffs as an underdog (again) and they need to be in the right mindset. They'll say the playoffs are a whole new season, but no matter how hard you try to believe that, it's the way you finish the regular season that sets the tone for the spring. The Habs have a big enough job ahead of them without entertaining self-doubts engendered by sliding into the playoffs on a two-game losing streak.

We need reassurance too, that the Chicago game wasn't a one-off. All the coasting around and soft play we saw last night can be erased by a good effort against Toronto. Basically, the Sens game was an emotional let down. The leafs game will be a tune up for the playoffs. We'll know a little bit more about the Canadiens' preparation for their coming role as underdogs.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Habs vs.Sens - Who Cares Edition

Notes on the third and OT:

-Stock saying: "I can't criticize them too much." It must be painful, P.J.

-HNIC pointing out that Ryan Miller got a knock in the head and continued to play. It's noticable that goalies are not getting the same treatment as players under the new concussion protocol.

-Oh, come on! How lazy do you have to be to give the Sens three shots at it? Not a stellar shift for Gill or Subban. Pleks either.

-This is what I hate about the NHL. Marginal players hurting other guys in some brain dead attempt to keep or earn a job.

-Habs five-minute PP. I think they haven't scored on one all year. Aaaannnd...terrible effort.

-I'm worried Plekanec doesn't score anymore.

-Gill looked like the biggest pussy in the league on the Butler winner. Does that make him a lion?

-Well, that was a waste of time. Wish I could watch the Chicago game again.

-Oh. Okay, they've secured the pity point.

-Auld's a sieve on the winner. Proving, once again, why he's a backup.

Notes on the second:

-Stock on HNIC: "The guy who didn't have the puck still dood the same play." Way to go, CBC.

-Ha ha..."Auld makes sure the starter gets the night off." Hasn't he been pulled twice in his ten starts?

-What's up with AK and the passing? It's like he suddenly had Lasik on his hockey vision.

-HNIC pointing out how Gomez will drop the puck to avoid going to the net. Yup. Got it in one.

-Watching Lars Eller hit is a lovely thing. He gets his shoulder down and drives into the guy's midsection. Can the NHL hire him for a how-to video?

-Who else is REALLY hoping Subban gets that record-tying 15th goal tonight?

-Somehow, I really hope Weber gets the only goal of this game.

-I wish the Habs had Hamrlik instead of Spacek signed for next year.

-Wow. The refs these days really do fall for anything, don't they? Weber called on a blatant dive.

-Yay! Finally, Gio pots one. Darche doing yeoman's work on the play. Gomez with a nice pass too.

-Ole's coming from the crowd. You can't really blame them. They're so excited to see real hockey in their home rink.

-Meandering kind of game. I'm glad the Habs are up, but I'm not sold on a win yet.

Notes on the first:

-The Canadiens, if they're truly a playoff team, should NOT lose this game. Even if nobody really cares about the score anymore, Habs vs.Binghamton should be a no-brainer.

-Hughson on CBC: "Desharnais just slipped a check." He does that a lot. Desharnais, I mean. Not Hughson.

-Just please, nobody get hurt.

-Looks like they're trying really hard to get Gomez a goal. Maybe they should turn that effort to solving climate change instead.

-Weber's not a bad forward.

-Kostitsyn just doesn't think. That's his biggest flaw. But maybe he can't. I don't know anymore.

-The Habs aren't really pushing. This is kind of like the guy who means to lose weight, but he'll start right after this pizza.

-Boring period.

Random Thoughts on Game Day

A few random thoughts as we await the Alfie-less Sens:

Coach of the year. Why does it always end up being a guy who's in charge of a stacked team? How hard can it be to coach a team that's got the Sedins scoring crazy amounts of points? Just to put it in perspective, the twins' 192 points are only three less than Plekanec, Wisniewski, Kostitsyn and Cammalleri...the Habs' top four point producers...all together. The Jack Adams should go to a guy who takes an underachieving bunch and turns it into a contender. THAT'S coaching. I know the Canucks had a lot of injuries, but they're basically deeper than Deepak Chopra. Alain Vigneault didn't really have to do much. He even admitted this week's mini tirade at his team was the first time all year he had to yell at them. If I were voting for the Adams, I'd give it to a guy like Jacques Lemaire, who dragged the Devils out of the Pit of Despair, or Dan Bylsma, who has his team challenging for first in the East without Crosby or Malkin. Even Ron Wilson, who got the lowly leafs to within a sniff of the playoffs for the first time in six years, would be acceptable, or Jacques Martin, who's kept an injury riddled Habs squad in the top-eight all season.

Does anyone else hate "trendy" hockey talk? Two months ago, I'd never heard someone call a scrambly goal a "greasy" goal. Now, after one guy came up with that, everyone's using it. Same with fighting for the puck "down low" or using "goal prevention" tactics. We used to say "around the net" and "playing defence."

Speaking of stuff I hate, I can't stand the Habs marketing department. I've hated for years that they pimp the team's past glory to a generation who never got a chance to experience it, while completely ignoring the reality of the modern NHL. The marketers are mostly responsible for the unrealistic expectations of younger fans and the cult-like atmosphere around the team, which I'm sure the players find slightly scary. Also, they're dorky. Youppi, t-shirt cannons and now the dumb "put your game face on" promotion they're pushing for the playoffs are just not cool. Oh, yeah, if you haven't heard, the marketers are telling us we're all supposed to go out and paint tri-coloured stripes on our faces to prove we want the Canadiens to win in the post-season. I'll make a deal with you, marketers. If the Habs get to the Finals, I'll paint my whole damn body red, white and blue. Until then, let's keep the hype to a respectable level.

I know NHL players are pros, but I watched part of the the Devils/leafs game last night and I wondered how on earth they manage to stay motivated. It had to be absolutely crushing for them to give up their heart-filled, dream-inspiring runs to the playoffs and settle into the role of also-rans. Yet, they found some inspiration within themselves...pride, next year's paycheck, holding on to the hockey season just a bit drum up a good effort. You have to give credit to teams that can do that, even when it obviously doesn't count any more, and even when it's just the leafs and Devils.

I was wrong about the Flames. Yes, they missed the playoffs as I predicted they would before the season began and I advocated for the Habs to trade for their first pick. They didn't, however, suck out loud the way I thought they would. They built a team with a bunch of retread free agents and former leafs to support Iginla, they have very few exciting young prospects in their system, and their star defenceman is a dud. I didn't see much hope for them to stay out of the basement, but it just goes to prove a team is more than the sum of its parts on paper.

It's a shame the NHL has to be all serious about anything that's any fun. What was the harm in Marty Turco making a bet with a fan in Montreal? It was for less than $30, and Turco wasn't even involved directly in the game. He was engaging a fan on a personal level, and they were having a laugh. Now the league is deciding whether it needs to reprimand Turco for betting on hockey. Seriously, it's not like he's Janet Gretzky or anything. Same thing when Ron Wilson put money on the board to encourage his new team to beat his old team. That's been going on forever, but the staid old NHL had to crack down on him for it because it contravened the salary cap. The NHL has no sense of humour, unless it's prepackaged in its shiny promotional campaigns, and even then, someone else is making the jokes for them.

I wonder if anyone at the NHL executive level recognizes the beauty of the game between the Canadiens and the Blackhawks the other night? The rarity of seeing two teams skate their asses off without any fights, stupid post-whistle scrums or retaliatory cheap shots after a clean hit made that game something special. It's the standard to which the league should aspire. It was so good, I was wishing I could watch it all over again. The sad part is that yesterday, after the euphoria wore off, I lost a bit of enthusiasm for the coming playoff round. The probability of playing the Bruins with their cheap-shot players and goon show coach means we won't see any more of the lovely, clean hockey we got from the 'Hawks. It'll be a grind from here on out, so I'm glad the Habs have the memory of that great Chicago game to sustain them through the playoffs.