Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The 32nd Time is the Charm

It would appear that the Boston Bruins are set to wrap-up their first round series against Montreal in the NHL playoffs. The Canadiens have won twenty-four of thirty-one playoff meetings between the teams, but it seems that the thirty-second time is the charm for the boys from Boston.

Unlike the first place team in the Western Conference, the San Jose Sharks, the Bruins are looking like a true number one seed against the struggling eighth place Habs. Tim Thomas has been solid when needed in goal, Zdeno Chara has been his usual towering presence on the blue line, and Marc Savard and Phil Kessel have delivered the knock-out punch in the offensive zone.

For their part, Montreal has struggled for months to find consistency in their play and the end result will be an early exit from this year's playoffs. It has been such a struggle in Montreal, if the season had continued for another week the Florida Panthers or Buffalo Sabres would be in this series against Boston and the Habs would be tenth in the East.

Carey Price put forth a better effort in game three in a losing cause, but unlike last season, he is often out of position after the first save and is being beaten on the second shot. Price will have to steal game four and hope the team gains momentum from his effort. Price can't do it alone though, the defense has been allowing over thirty shots per game on a regular basis and the forwards are not allowing the defensemen the opportunity to make a quality first pass. With Andrei Markov and Mathieu Schneider questionable for game four, the mountain to climb gets higher and higher.

In an article at the Canadiens web site - "It ain't over till it's over", the history books and statistics get dusted off to explain that one hundred and fifty-five playoff match-ups have started three games to none and only two teams have won four straight; the 1942 Maple Leafs and the 1975 Islanders. Will we see history made in this series? In a word, no. Let's take a quick look at the numbers...

Boston's goal scorers are doing their jobs - scoring. Marc Savard has 2 goals and 5 points, as does Phil Kessel (3 goals, 5 points). Former Montreal cast-off Michael Ryder has 2 goals and 4 points. Every Bruins player has at least one point except for Aaron Ward, Blake Wheeler and the injured Matt Hunwick. On the Montreal side, Alex Kovalev leads the way with 2 goals and Saku Koivu has 2 assists. When Glen Metropolit, Chris Higgins and call-up Yannick Weber are tied with Kovalev and Koivu in points, trouble is brewing. Three other players have 1 point and everyone else has been shut down by the Boston defense.

In goal, Boston's Tim Thomas is 3-0 with a 1.67 goals against average and a .940 save percentage. He has faced 84 shots but never truly been tested. In game two, Boston had twenty scoring chances to Montreal's five. At the other end of the ice, Carey Price sports an 0-3 record and has a league worst 4.15 GAA. His .882 save percentage is second from the bottom, beating out Jose Theodore's league worst .810%.

The final game of the season between Montreal and Pittsburgh illustrated the confidence issues Price is having this year. After giving up a short handed goal to make the score 2-1 Penguins, Price's shoulders slumped and he looked defeated. Still on the power play, Montreal lost the puck to Chris Kunitz. Leaving his own zone, Kunitz almost dumped the puck down the ice but decided to push for the Canadiens blue line. When he got to the line he almost dumped the puck again but took another look towards Price and lobbed the puck at the net. The result? The Penguins third goal of the game.

A few weeks ago, a host at the Fan 590 in Toronto told this joke: How many Habs fans does it take to change a light bulb? The answer - 10... 1 to change the bulb and 9 to talk about how good the bulb used to be. Yes, to quote the Habs site, "it ain't over till it's over", but this one's over... Have a great sports day everyone.

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