I will admit, as I watched the Habs unravel like an old wool sock in Game Two against the Bruins, I had a strong sense of something that, if not exactly doom, was pretty close to it. In the moments (okay, hours) after it ended, I wondered how on earth a team that had worked its collective butt off for a 2-0 series lead could possibly recover from the shock of watching it slide out of their hands in the space of six minutes. A tough playoff loss to a better team is one thing, but that loss was the kind of morale-sapping blow that can create a world of doubt, disappointment and panic in players' heads. The idea of having done their best to keep the Bruins in check, only to see all their hard work get erased so very easily had to be devastating.
Today, though, the sense that losing in such a difficult way effectively turned the series in Boston's favour isn't as strong. For one thing, just about every team in the playoffs has blown a two-goal lead. It's more the norm than the exception. For another, if there's one thing we know about these Montreal Canadiens, it's that they don't give up. All you have to do is remember the Ottawa Comeback, which sent the team on a 12-2-1 streak to end the regular season.
There's no doubt there are weaknesses in the Habs game, like an ineffective Brandon Prust, a stone-cold Max Pacioretty, a terrible win percentage on important faceoffs and a defence prone to rushing its passes under pressure, giving the puck away much too often. Added to that, the Bruins play a tight, aggressive game that tends to make the Canadiens spend too long in their own zone. Their passing is precise, so they possess the puck more often than Montreal does. These facts mean the Habs have to punch above their weight just to be competitive. That they were able not only to compete, but managed to win a game and lead for most of another can make the team believe in itself, even in the face of a tough loss.
The split in Boston is a good thing, as is the togetherness of the team. In the Montreal dressing room, nobody has to deal with the feelings engendered by the loss on his own. There are friends in that room, and a willingness among them to play not only for themselves, but for each other. As the old adage goes, there's strength in numbers, and the Habs will help each other start the next game of what's now a best-of-five series with fresh resolve.
The loss itself is a test of will, as is the manner in which it happened, but a team has to pass these tests to build the kind of mental strength found in champions. To date, the Canadiens have had a relatively easy road in these playoffs. Their four-game sweep of Tampa meant they had lots of time to prepare for the Boston series and feel good about themselves. Rarely, however, does a team go deep without facing some adversity. Finding a way to overcome it draws the players tighter together and instills the knowledge that they're resilient enough to push through the tough times. Right now, Boston has the advantage in the regard, having won it all in 2011 with most of the same players. They're the better team and the obvious favourite, while the Canadiens are still learning those lessons.
The three-day break between Games Two and Three and the change in venue will help, putting time and distance between the players and that loss. There'll be time to study video and think about replacing Prust with Ryan White and Bouillon with Nathan Beaulieu or Jarred Tinordi. As Josh Gorges said afterwards, there's no point in dwelling on a loss, as it doesn't change the result. He's right, of course, but he and the rest of the Habs need to remember that lessons learned in a tough loss can become the foundation in building a winner.
Maybe the events of Game Two will give the Bruins the confidence they need to take control of the series going forward. They're a powerhouse of a team, and they know what it takes to win. Yesterday, I would have said that's what I expect to happen. Today, I believe the Canadiens will keep pushing and won't give less than their best, no matter what happened last game. And maybe that's enough.