Now that the thrills of the wonderful Game Seven Habs win over the Bruins have been absorbed, celebrated and wallowed in, the team and its fans must turn their focus to the next challenge presented by the New York Rangers. It's time to get back to business, and part of that is analyzing what worked in the Boston series so it can be duplicated in the semi-finals.
Some of the win factors are obvious. Carey Price was a solid, dependable presence. P.K.Subban played the best hockey he's played since entering the NHL. The supplementary scoring from the third and fourth lines supported the top lines when they struggled for goals. Tomas Plekanec's line kept the David Krejci line from factoring in the series. The special teams were solid. And the resolve and unity displayed by the team in the face of adversity countered the extracurricular commentary and on-ice cheapness of the Bruins. Those are the obvious reasons for the Canadiens' triumph over Boston.
Perhaps overlooked, although he shouldn't be in this case, is the performance of Michel Therrien. The coach has taken a lot of heat in his second stint behind the Habs bench, much of it deserved. In the past, he's refused to give public credit to Subban, and seemed to almost dislike him. He's made strange personnel decisions, like sticking with Francis Bouillon and Douglas Murray instead of integrating younger defencemen into the lineup through the year, relegating Daniel Briere to the fourth line even when his play improved, and juggling lines right up until the last couple of games of the season. His bench management has often been suspect as well. He had a long stint of burning off his time out after a second-period icing, then needing it later in the game. He's often watched his team give up a key goal, then come right back with his worst defence pair. And he's messed up last change at home and ended up with his third D-pair and fourth line on the ice against the opposing top scorer.
That was then.
These playoffs are now, and Therrien has been really good. In the series against the Bruins, the rhetoric started before the puck dropped on Game One. Boston coach Claude Julien talked about how much he hates the Canadiens. His players followed suit, talking about hate and their supreme confidence in their ability to beat Montreal. Therrien didn't take the same approach. He talked about respecting the opponent and a commitment to hard work by his players. He didn't rise to the bait and fire back at Julien. In the end, neither did the Canadiens. They took the same high road their coach traveled and declined to fire barbs back at their accusers in black.
Neither did Therrien follow the example of his Boston counterpart and consistently berate the officials from the bench, or talk about the "crap" his poor players have to deal with. Unlike when he took his famous bench minor that possibly cost the Canadiens a playoff series in his last stint in Montreal, this time Therrien left that to Julien, who ended up getting penalized for abusing the refs.
The Bruins, following the example of their coach, seemed to believe their own hype and they got bogged down in a mental, verbal and cheap-shot battle that seemed to exhaust them more than it did the Habs. The Montreal players on the other hand, without getting sucked into that fight, were able to focus on the way they needed to play. That direction came from Therrien.
The other noticeable thing about Therrien in these playoffs has been his affection for his players. Cameras caught him before Game Six, walking the length of the bench, patting every single player on the back and dropping a word of encouragement in every ear. During tense moments in games he's been seen calming players down, and when mistakes were made, he's been there to talk to the offender about it. Knowing Subban was under tremendous pressure personally and professionally in the Boston series, Therrien was unequivocal in his praise and support for the young defenceman. He's been a positive and calming influence, which, in the emotionally-driven playoffs, is sometimes more important than being an X and O genius.
Just as we've seen teams tune out a coach and collapse, we're now seeing a team buy into the message and raise their level of play because everyone believes in the same thing. Michel Therrien has learned from his mistakes and he's now got a group of players who are listening to him, and, because of that, they're winning. Even if he's still a little slow to make adjustments when things aren't working (he probably should have inserted Nathan Beaulieu in the lineup long before Game Six), he's managed something more important at this time of year. He's convinced 30 players, a coaching staff and a GM that they can win the Stanley Cup.