BOSTON - When the Montreal Canadiens start collapsing down around their net - a tactic that frustrated the Washington Capitals to no end last spring in the Habs’ opening round upset, for opposition shooters it’s like - to use a particularly Bostonian analogy - trying to cram a Dunkin’ Donut through a key hole: it’s going to be messy and not much is going to get through.
Don’t stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
The underdog Canadiens rode a hot goaltender to an upset win.
Using the same tactics that brought them stunning victories in the opening two rounds of last spring’s playoffs, the Canadiens, with goaltender Carey Price now playing the role of Jaroslav Halak, stunned the Bruins 2-0 in the opening game of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal at the TD Garden.
The Habs rode goals by captain Brian Gionta before the game was three minutes old and one with three minutes to go and 31 saves by Price to the win, setting up a Game 2 Saturday which Bruins forward Milan Lucic said was a must-win situation.
“If you were going to write it down on paper how you wanted to play,” said Price, who won in the playoffs for the first time in nine games, “that is exactly the road game you would want.”
The Canadiens were particularly adept at their collapsing strategy in the second period when Price made 18 saves, mostly on pucks that had trickled through and were being jammed around the blue paint. On more than a few occasions, the Bruins were forced to double-clutch and then string the puck around the perimeter. On a few of those plays, their misdirected passes wound up leaving the zone and forcing them to regroup.
“That’s probably the strength of our team, boxing guys out,” said Price. “And I don’t know how many shots we blocked, but if felt like 30.”
It was 19, actually.
“That’s what you need,” said Gionta, who is hot now, having scored two goals in the last two regular-season games, as well. “When you make a mistake, somebody is there to back you up, you block a shot.”
For the most part, the unbridled emotion that often veered out of bounds during the regular season between the two teams and saw them combine for 355 minutes in penalties and 20 fighting majors in six regular season games, was channeled between the whistles. There was one moment when Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban bumped Lucic from behind as the whistle blew, but there was little in the way of nonsense during the stoppages.
Gionta’s first goal, which allowed the Canadiens to play their drop-back style, was so typical of the type the Canadiens conjured up in their remarkable playoff run last spring. A small mistake by the opposition, in this case a rim around by Boston defenceman Tomas Kaberle which missed its intended target and was cutoff on the boards by Canadiens forward Scott Gomez.
With most of the Bruins with their weight on their offensive foot at that point, Gomez fired a cross-ice pass that went by teammate Mathieu Darche and found Gionta low in the right wing circle where he snapped a shot by Thomas.
“I’m not a play-by-play announcer,” snapped Thomas after the game when asked what happened on the opening goal. “I was playing the guy in front (Darche) and it looked like he was the one who was going to pick it off...if (Gionta) holds it a second more, I can get over there.”
“Gionta is like four foot (tall) so I didn’t even see him, either,” said Gomez. “I was going to Darche and that little (bleep) he just gets open. He’s the small man’s John LeClair and Keith Tkachuk. You just throw it out there. Trust me, I don’t know how many assists I’ve got because Brian is going to be there.”
The Bruins goaltender didn’t look good on Gionta’s second, a shot that looked to beat him under the right arm.
Now the B’s will have to find some answers, fast.
Somebody want to clean up that donut?