First blood was drawn in the opening game of the first round of the playoffs between
Boston’s first goal, scored just over five minutes into the game, came on the power play with Alex Kovalev off for two minutes after taking a slashing penalty. As the Canadiens defence backed in and allowed
To top off the mess the Habs had gotten themselves into, Steve Begin took a two minute minor after the goal had been scored putting Boston right back on the man advantage; no way to attempt to win back momentum in a playoff encounter. It’s also the one are where
Penalties weren’t the only problems, however, as the Canadiens seemed nervous and were making silly mistakes consistently. Sheldon Souray twice made hopeless little mistakes, the kind you very rarely see from anyone at this level, to gift the puck to the Bruins. The Habs also continually gave the home side the blue line as defenders backed in and allowed attacking forwards easy penetration.
In some cases even effort looked to be a problem for the Canadiens, and for the first game of the playoffs, and first in two years, that’s unforgivable. Worse, however, is when it’s Kovalev, a man who hasn’t seen the playoffs in a dog’s age, who fails to put out the requisite effort.
It was a panic play late in the first that led to the Bruins second goal. Souray corralled the puck to the left of the Canadiens net and sent a pass behind the goal to Patrice Brisebois. He, in turn, upon discovering that a Boston player was close on his heels, decided to just swing at the puck, rather than send it back behind the goal or into the corner of the rink. The puck subsequently zipped off a skate directly up through the middle of the slot to a waiting Gonchar. His perfect pass to Michael Nylander led to an easy deflection and a 2-0
The second was by far the Habs best period, though they were hardly at their best. At least, however, they created chances and forced Andrew Raycroft, the probably rookie of the year winner, to make some solid saves. There had been much made, before the series began, about Raycroft being a rookie and his ability to handle the pressure, however his play between the pipes should leave absolutely no question that he’s not fazed in the least.
When the Habs went on a power play, they looked almost smart with the puck, maintaining possession and working it around the perimeter until an appropriate shot was available. Richard Zednik had a chance to pull the Canadiens to within one, but he whiffed miserably on a sweet Saku Koivu pass. The second shift was also effective as Pierre Dagenais’ shot was deflected at the last moment above the net. This was followed up by a scintillating save by the goalie the Bruins call Razor.
Koivu again made things happen when the Habs were killing a penalty, taking the puck himself on a two-on-one and forcing Razor into a wonderful stop.
The Bruins retook control after this, however, and Theodore was beaten by Mike Knuble through the legs only to have the puck plucked off the line by Begin. There was a review by the replay booth after the play, however the decision of the refs stood as evidence showed that the puck failed, barely, to fully cross the line.
Destiny was on Knuble’s side, though, as a pretty play by Patrice Bergeron, another hot rookie who deked poor Theodore out of his shorts, sent a pass from beside a net into the heart of the crease. Two Habs players, each with first shot at the puck, failed to clear the puck before Knuble easily swiped home the Bruins third goal. Andrei Markov and Jason Ward will surely be having nightmares of pucks they just can’t reach if they manage sleep tonight.
The third failed to bring much excitement to the game as the Bruins dropped back into a trap and forced the Habs to work to even gain the centre line. With the lead as it was, Mike Sullivan was able to rest Thornton for long stretches and left the game to his checkers to close out.
Typically the Habs became frustrated as the night drew to a close and they started to force the issue after the whistles had gone. Unfortunately, nearing the end of the game Souray didn’t wait for the whistle and instead send a might cross check to the face of P.J. Axelsson drawing yet another penalty.
For the Habs, the time before next game will be spent trying to regain some confidence and remember how to play while limiting silly mistakes. Tonight, they were barely in the game, despite showing some intensity, because they could barely string together three passes, let alone create any sustained pressure in the Boston end.
Claude Julien surely has his work cut out for him, but at least in that Habs fans can rest somewhat easier, as he’s proven quite adept at turning things around this year.
This writer’s three stars:
- Sergei Gonchar
- Martin Lapointe
- Andrew Raycroft