Thursday, April 16, 2009

Round 1, Game 1: Bruins 4, Canadiens 2

Despite the outcome, Habs fans should be at least somewhat encouraged by the play of the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge. Despite all the warning signs of a rough-and-tumble series, both teams kept their emotions in check for the most part, and played decent hockey. The refs actually acted like they were being paid to enforce the rules, and called a good game by not letting the clutch-and-grab go unnoticed and keeping a free flow.

Their defense played pretty well, despite having a converted forward, an old fart who skates as fast as I do and another old fart who gets pushed off the puck easier than my 6 year old. Sure there were a few lapses, like Gorges' brain freeze of a cross check. He knows better, but it was probably just a matter of a little too much force applied to what was supposed to be an "I'm still here" reminder of a cross check.

One wonders what might be if Bouillon and especially Markov can return to the blue line. If the refs keep calling it tight, the series could very well tilt in the Habs' favor, where their skill and speed would be allowed room to operate.

For all these reasons, one hopes that Big Georges Laraque won't be skating on the first line again. And if Bouillon and/or Markov returns, Dandenault should move up front and nudge BGL out of the lineup altogether.

BGL was inserted to provide some toughness during these playoffs, and to protect the star players. Gainey signed him last off season for this very moment, after Philly and Boston both physically dominated the Habs last year. It's a decent strategy, esp with the Bruins adding more size themselves.

The problem is that BGL simply can't play hockey. He skates around in slow circles, mostly looking for someone to engage in some verbal jousting. And when he tries to play the body, he's usually not very successful -- he's so slow, there's plenty of time to get out of the way.

His stick handling skills are also atrocious. He was set up multiple times for some decent scoring chances, but couldn't even get a decent shot most of the time.

On the other hand, the man he swapped places with was the Habs' main offensive weapon. Tanguay had an assist, a game high +2, and would have had a PP goal had it not been for a pact-with-the-devil display of goaltending by Tim Thomas.

When Tanguay was on the ice -- no matter what line -- the ice started tilting toward the Bruins' end. This was obvious by mid-2nd period. And when Gainey had his big line out to start the 3rd, I had hope that he had seen it too. But Laraque soon resumed his position on Koivu's wing. Presumably he was there to give Kovalev and Koivu more room. It's hard to say if that worked, but it's almost a lock that Tanguay on that line would have resulted in better scoring chances.

Still, there is much reason for hope that this series might extend long enough for the Habs to get healthy and pull out a series win.

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