A few scattered thoughts on Boston-Montreal Game 7 aka Armageddon even though it’s only Round Two aka the night cardiologists make their money…
–It’s tough to make sense of anything on a day like this, so let’s start with something that makes zero sense. Win or lose, the Bruins have outplayed the Canadiens in the series. They’ve lead in puck possession, registered more shots, and seemingly more chances. Of course, simply playing better for the majority of the series does not make them the better team. If they were the better team, they wouldn’t be missing empty nets every time they have the chance. They wouldn’t be hitting crossbars on every shot. Some of hitting posts and crossbars is bad luck, but the bottom line is that you need to put the puck in the net. The Bruins have been better most of the series, but that absolutely does not mean they “deserve” to win the series. Teams deserving to win are opportunistic and disciplined. How many times have Marchand, Lucic, Krejci, and a slew of others fumbled easy chances? I lost count sometime during Game 3. Better teams, ones that deserve to win, finish their chances. The Bruins haven’t done so thus far, but still have a chance tonight.
–As to why the Bruins have been outscored by the Canadiens so far, 17-15, take a look at special teams and turnovers. Again, it’s all about opportunism and discipline, which are explained by special teams and turnovers. The Bruins special teams have been dreadful in all facets. The Canadiens have been scoring in bunches on their power play, and that’s why they’ve been able to offset the Bruins’ puck dominance. When you combine a Bruins team that can’t score 5-on-5 with a Canadiens team that cashes in on seemingly every other power play, you get a tight series. The other piece of the puzzle is turnovers. How many breakaways and empty nets has Montreal taken advantage of? I lost track of guys that scored on breakaways. Subban. Weise. Pacioretty. If goalies were allowed to carry the puck over center ice, I’d be shocked if Carey Price didn’t have a breakaway goal by now. Speaking of which…
–Price has simply been better than Rask. To simplify things, let’s re-confirm that the Bruins have indeed outplayed and outshot the Canadiens on the whole. That’s not enough to win a series. However, Price outplaying Rask is enough to win a series. And unless Rask turns in a performance tonight like he had in Game 4, Price ends up being the biggest difference maker in the series.
–This won’t matter if the Bruins lose tonight, but the team’s best player during these playoffs has been Carl Soderberg, and it isn’t really close. He’s only got one goal, but he has five assists, a +5 rating, and has only taken one penalty. You could argue Bergeron, but Soderberg’s two-way play, the major point of any Bergeron argument, has been stellar. Also, his line changes every few games, and he’s adapted beautifully, with help from mainstay Loui Eriksson, to coax strong performances from newbies Justin Florek and Matt Fraser, not to mention also centering Danny Paille and Jordan Caron.
–I think Soderberg is the only Bruin to score on a true wrist shot between the dots. It feels like the Bruins attempt 20 shots per game that are good looks in the slot, clean wrist shots that just can’t beat Price. Dougie Hamilton may have scored one as well, but that’s about it. It’s been garbage in front (Fraser Game 4), fluke shots (Bergeron Game 2), and rebounds (Eriksson Game 5). Then again, it doesn’t matter how you score, just that you do it. But when guys like Iginla, Marchand, Lucic, and Krejci can’t put a shot by the goalie, it increases the chatter about the Bruins getting a pure scorer. No, not Tyler Seguin. They had him last year and he couldn’t score. It makes you yearn for guys like Kane, Stamkos, Perry. But let’s hold off on the questioning of Claude’s system–which has no place for those types of high money guys–because it’s a system that works as long as the best players actually play their best. Like everything else mentioned, we’ll see tonight.
–Saying Rask “hasn’t won anything” and that “he’s no Tim Thomas” is childish. Rask is a young guy who came closer to “winning something” last year than any Boston goalie besides Thomas has since the 70’s. So if you’re dismissing Rask for not having won a Cup, then apparently Bruins history from 1972-2011 should be wiped from the books because they didn’t “win anything” either. Also, by that logic, Tomas Kaberle had a more worthwhile stint with the Bruins than Ray Bourque. Winning a Stanley Cup isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do and it takes some guys a few years to get over the hump and “win something.” And lest we forget, Rask was a couple minutes and a Game 7 away from having a postseason at least as great as Thomas did in 2011. He’s a great goalie who keeps the Bruins in contention year after year and should get his Cup someday, hopefully soon.
–That said, Rask has always had trouble against Montreal. There are certain teams that he owns (the Rangers) and others that own him. Actually, really just one team owns him, and it’s Montreal. Rask is better when shots are more even and he has a chance to get engaged. When Bruins dominate action, he’s cold an unprepared. Just look at Rene Bourque’s goal in Game 1. Rask usually stops that, but he hadn’t done much all night and got beat on a rush. Look at Pacioretty’s goal in Game 6. The Bruins dominated play for 10 minutes, but they got sloppy, gave up a breakaway and Rask channeled his inner Marc-Andre Fleury. As a Bruins fan, I want to see them get the majority of the chances. But seeing how that’s gone for six games, having Tuukka tested early on isn’t the worst thing in the world. Well, as long as he stops the puck, that is.
–If the Bruins lose, they become a combination of several teams. They’re part 2011 Canucks, a team loaded with talent that either took its opponent too lightly, lost a mental edge, or just lost a clash of styles. They’re part 2013 Penguins, an absolute juggernaut that suffered from hype, goofy goaltending, and too many posts. Remember last year when the Penguins kept saying “Yeah, we only scored twice in four games, but we hit a ton of posts!” That’s what the Bruins are facing. You don’t want to be the “We hit a lot of posts!” team. Lastly, they’ll be part Bruins of the past. Shades of 2004 and 2008, where they couldn’t match Montreal’s grit and skill. Shades of 2012, where they sleepwalked through parts of a series they should have won. Shades of 2009 and 2010, losing soul-crushing Game 7s at home to teams they undoubtedly should have beaten. Especially 2010, where they would have been the favorite in the Conference Finals, which they will be should they prevail tonight.
–If the Bruins win, though, it’ll hopefully be just a road block on the path to another Finals appearance. Though it ultimately means nothing for the next round, the Bruins have had the Rangers’ number lately. Boston’s miracle against Toronto last year will long live on in Hub hockey lore, but the fact remains that the Bruins embarrassed themselves in Games 5, 6, and most of 7 during that series. This Montreal team is better than that Toronto team (Price over Reimer alone makes this true), and the Bruins have put enough of a scare into their fans. Regardless of what happens against New York and beyond, let’s just hope this series becomes a scare, not a heartbreaker. This is the best Bruins team of my lifetime, and to go out at this stage would be a shame. Here’s hoping they won’t join the 1971 Bruins as the best editions in franchise history to not take home the Cup.
–You know I’m not in the prediction business, so nothing really left to say, other than I’ll have a three hour arrhythmia tonight that I’d prefer to end with a jolt of celebration and a feeling of relief than the unfathomable alternative.