The Drive For 25: Round 1 – Boston vs. Montreal


The Coach Is Back And The Gloves Are OFF !!!

While I’ve been at home for the past ten days, I’ve had a lot of time to think about the upcoming playoffs and the seemingly recurring battle between the Habs and the Boston Bruins. This will be the 33rd time these two teams have faced off in the playoffs, and I’m starting to grow tired of it.

Even though this season has been filled with drama between the two long-time rivals, I can’t help but think about what it would be like to face a team like Philadelphia to start the playoffs, instead of ending with them. Would it have made a difference last season? Hell, yeah it would! Playing a physical team like Boston or Philly is best done early in the playoffs, when the Canadiens are still relatively fresh. With the size differential between the clubs, playing a more speed-oriented team in the latter rounds would allow the Canadiens to remain in the hunt and competitive, assuming they get past Boston.Can David Beat Goliath Again?

This question is on the mind of every Canadiens’ fan from coast to coast. Do the Habs have what it takes to be giant killers once again in this post-season? Let’s look at the facts.

1. Carey Price– The Canadiens’ netminder has had a much more consistent regular season this year than Jaroslav Halak did last season. Given the size difference between the goaltenders, the opposition will not have as easy a time beating Price up high as Philadelphia did versus Halak. Add to that the changes in his work ethic and Price is poised to backstop the Habs deep into the playoffs.

2. The defensive core– Everyone has been criticizing P.K. Subban for his antics over the course of the regular season. It’s a forgone conclusion that any opposition the Canadiens face in the playoffs, especially Boston, will try to expose the rookie blueliner. Will this in evidence, Coach Martin can use his other d-men to compensate. As long as guys like Hal Gill and Brent Sopel block shots, as they have done in the past, and insulate Subban to a certain extent, the Canadiens would have the advantage.

My only concern is with the aging Roman Hamrlik and Jaroslav Spacek. While Spacek is returning to the lineup from injury and will have fresher legs, his play this season has not been up to par. Hamrlik, while being a player I truly admire, has lost a step or two, and is prone to pinch offensively at inopportune times.

3. Scott Gomez – The Canadiens’ enigma this season, centre Scott Gomez, isn’t really one at all. With a measly seven goals this season, he has been the bane of Habs’ fans all year. However, while his efforts have been questioned throughout the season, he is not the only one to blame for his inept statistical output.

Gomez is the type of player who adjusts to the situation that is presented to him. More often then not, he has led offensive rushes and has been forced to either drive wide or post up at the offensive blueline while waiting for his wingers to catch up. His previous success with Brian Gionta is a direct result of Gio’s willingness to drive the net and open up the mid-ice lane. That being said, Gomez also showed moderate success when Max Pacioretty was doing the same.

Given his past, we can expect Gomez to be a significant player in the Canadiens’ playoff success or failure. However, if his linemates refuse to open the middle of the offensive zone by being aggressive, regardless of the physical punishment they may endure, Gomez’s line may once again be missing in action.

On To Thursday And Beyond…

I think the Canadiens will pull off the first round upset once again this season, beating the Bruins in six games. Part of my thinking is the microscope the NHL will have over this series. Given the fight-fest in February and the Pacioretty incident in March, both teams will be on a short leash. The referees will be instructed to maintain a measure of control and allow skill to prevail.

Both Zdeno Chara and Milan Lucic will be the focal point of the Bruins’ physical game, as well as tough guy Scott Thornton. The latter two have demonstrated in the past their inability to control their emotions, and are prown to have brain cramps at critical times during games. If Bruins’ coach Claude Julien cannot keep these two behemoths under control, the parade to the penalty box will allow the Habs to get the upper hand, and demonstrate their offensive domination over the Bruins.

The wild-card, of course, is goaltender Tim Thomas. Arguably coming off his best year, his mental control will be an issue should the Canadiens score early and often. He has demonstrated an inability to maintain his composure when allowing bad goals, and is normally unable to recover. But only time will tell.

Regardless of the aforementioned factors,  I believe that the Canadiens will bring their best to the Bruins. Canadiens coach Jacques Martin will have his wards ready to go in this series. That in itself will be the single most-important reason the Canadiens will move on to the second round.