Speed key in Habs-Bruins showdown

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 4:24 PM ET


 It's not a particularly novel concept.

 The British navy used it for centuries. In sporting terms, Cassius Clay used it long before he became Muhammad Ali.

 He expressed it as, "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee," but essentially, he was saying "Speed is more important than size."

 Granted, this is sports we're talking about. In more intimate relationships, it might be a different matter. You'll have to ask Valerie Gibson about that.

 But it's clear that in the battle between the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins, going into Game 7 in Boston tonight, speed is dominating size.

 You might find it odd that any form of domination is being suggested in a series that is tied after six games. But if that's the case, you haven't been paying attention.

 Had it not been for a weak overtime goal in Game 2 and a bizarre brain cramp by Montreal's Alexei Kovalev in Game 4, this series would have ended last week and the Canadiens would have made an early arrival at the golf resort near Tampa that they have booked for the next round.

 The Bruins boast the accurately named 700-pound Line. And they have some of the world's tallest free-standing defencemen. But the tiny Montreal forwards are zipping around them like terriers around St. Bernards.

 Only Boston's so-called second line -- the one with speed -- is causing the Canadiens any trouble.

 While the big guys lumber around to no avail, Sergei Samsonov, Patrice Bergeron and Mikael Nylander look dangerous almost every time they're on the ice.

 So now, the Eastern Conference quarter-final that appeared to be over when the Bruins took three of the first four, has evolved into a one-game showdown, and if attitude has anything to do with it, Montreal will win.

 The Canadiens are the ones hanging around, talking about their resolve, while the Bruins are diving out back doors and sprinting around corners to avoid the media.

 The Canadiens are the ones who have a specific game plan, while the odd Bruin who gets cornered admits that he doesn't really know what to do next.

 The Canadiens are the ones with momentum, and they're also the ones with the long history of staging upsets over favoured Boston teams during the playoffs.

 The Canadiens are a team rising to the challenge, whereas the Bruins are a team that seems to be looking for answers.

 They thought Joe Thornton was an answer, but despite his courageous effort to play through a rib injury, he has come up empty. They thought their power play might be an answer, but it hasn't scored since Game 1.

 There seems to be one big difference between these teams right now. The Bruins are waiting for something to happen and fearing that when it does, it might not be pleasant. The Canadiens are intending to make something good happen.

 The Canadiens have a full range of diverse players, from small veteran forward Saku Koivu to husky rookie defenceman Mike Komisarek, but there's a common thread. They're all enjoying the challenge.

 Coach Claude Julien spoke about Koivu on Saturday saying, "When it comes to hockey, people talk about his size, but his heart and desire compensate for his size. He plays big.

 "He loves challenges. I think that what a coach has to do to get the best out of him is challenge him."

 Said Komisarek, "If you're thinking about making one mistake, I think you're setting yourself up for failure.

 OPPORTUNITY TO SHINE

 "I'm a young player and I'm still looking for the opportunity to shine. This is an opportunity to perform in coast-to-coast games, not only in Canada, but in the United States also. I can't wait to get out there."

 For the Bruins, the question is simple: Can size overcome confidence?

 They have the former but not the latter.


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