Bruins-Habs produce instant classic in Boston

The Montreal Canadiens lost their first game of the postseason today against the Boston Bruins. It was Game 2, another instant classic between hockey’s best rivals.

Habs goaltender Carey Price was sensational through the first forty-minutes, allowing the Canadiens to mount a 3-1 lead. But the lead was not sustainable. Despite their best efforts to hang on for dear life, the Canadiens’ flood gates finally opened with nine minutes remaining in the 3rd period.

Bruins defenceman Dougie Hamilton scored a crucial goal, bringing the Bruins to within one mid-way through the third-period. Then the building got loud. The players on the black and yellow team drew energy from that. They poured on the pressure, as they had done throughout the first thirty-minutes, to no avail. This time, Bruins’ pucks went into the Canadiens’ net.

Patrice Bergeron tied it. Reilly Smith won it. Milan Lucic iced it with an empty netter from centre. 5-3 Bruins. Series tied at one win apiece.

This series between the Bruins and Canadiens is quickly rivalling Blackhawks-Blues and Kings-Sharks for the title most entertaining series in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. 

In Game 1, overtime was required. The Habs stole it. Canadiens defender P. K. Subban scored twice that night. He has been excellent so far against Boston. His teammates have followed suit, especially on the back-end.

Six of Montreal’s seven goals against Boston have been directly created by the efforts of defencemen. Subban’s offence has been most lethal.

Andrei Markov is still strong in his old age. He won countless battles down low against some big Bruins in Game 2.

Josh Gorges is an unsung hero. He was thorough defensively and is one of the most talented shot-blockers in the NHL.

Alexei Emelin plays with fire. And his point shot is one of the smartest in the league — it always seem to get through and cause trouble.

The Canadiens can sting from the point. They’ve been stinging the Bruins from the point all series.

Carey Price was unreal today. He made some highlight reel saves in the early part of the second-period that will be all over YouTube and Twitter tonight. He stopped Eriksson in close with his blocker. Robbed Lucic with his left leg. kicked rebounds into corners and challenged shooters to hit his logo; they obliged. Crazy to say a goalie who allowed four goals against had a great game, but it’s true of Price on this day.

The Bruins play a grind game, much like the Los Angeles Kings. They get the puck deep and they go to work. They hit hard. They swarm the blue paint. As a result, Boston and L.A. wear down their opponents. By the third-period, it’s hard to keep up still. The Kings recently scored 4 goals in a third-period to eliminate the Sharks in Game 7. The Bruins have scored 8 goals in two games against the Canadiens, and 7 of those goals have been scored in the third-period.

According to ExtraSkater, the Bruins had a 56.8% Corsi For against the Canadiens in Game 2. That means they directed more 5-on-5 shots at net than they allowed against. In other words, the Bruins carried the play in Game 2. And the Habs, either because they had no say in the matter, or because they chose it as strategy, sat back and let the Bruins attack in waves.

Montreal’s defence collapses. As a team, that is the defensive style they play. In fact, most teams play a variation of what the Habs do behind their own blue line. In playing this way, the points are left open but the front of the net is well protected and there are more bodies for shot blocking. Both teams are leaving point men open, and both are paying for it with goals against generated from defencemen. And both these teams — Bruins-Habs — possess weapons on the point.

Dougie Hamilton is not the same player he was at the start of the 2013-14 regular season, nor is Kevan Miller. They’ve both improved noticeably throughout the year. Tonight they played great. Hamilton was especially good. It’s obvious he has learned a lot from Bruins captain and Norris Trophy finalist, Zdeno Chara. Hamilton plays a calm game; keeps the puck in front of him, just like Z. Good mentor. And the rich get richer.

There was a time in the second-period when the Bruins lost their composure and it looked like they wouldn’t be able to recover. They did. Hamilton’s goal got them back on track and that was that.

Game 3 will be at the Bell Centre in Montreal. Expect noise. Expect booing. Expect another great hockey game.