It’s time for the NHL playoffs, when it all starts, and ends, with your goaltender.
For the Montreal Canadiens, that means a first-round match up against the Boston Bruins, beginning Thursday night at TD Banknorth Garden. And unless coach Bob Gainey pulls a fast one on everyone, it also means that Carey Price will get another crack at the Bruins.
You’ll recall last season, when the Habs met the Bruins in round one, Price was hot and cold against the Bruins in a series that the Canadiens took in seven games. Many Habs fans were less than pleased when Gainey made Price the no. 1 man in goal after trading away popular veteran Christobal Huet at the deadline. Price answered the bell with a solid showing for the rest of the regular season, but was inconsistent in post-season play.
Price has been the poster boy for inconsistency this season; certainly since the all-star break. And the question now is: will we see the Carey Price who was outstanding for 50 minutes in the team’s regular-season finale Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins? Will we see the Carey Price who had the Bell Centre faithful on their feet, chanting “CAR-Y, CAR-Y” after two spectacular saves late in the second period? Or will we see the Carey Price who was beaten by Kris Letang on a long shot from the edge of the faceoff circle that gave the Penguins a 3-1 victory?
We’ll find out soon enough, won’t we?
The players in front of him? Well, if today’s practice is any indication, look for the Koivu-Kovalev-Tanguy line to lead the way up front. Look for Tomas Plekanec to get a chance to redeem himself following a disappointing regular season, on a line with Andrei Kostitsyn and Matt D’Agostini, two other guys who disappeared for extended stretches during the regular season. Look for the high-energy line of Lapierre-Kostopoulos-Latendresse to stay together. And look for Georges Laraque to replace Mathieu Dandeanault on the shutdown line, along with Glen Metropolit and Christopher Higgins.
Laraque, who talks proudly, and for good reason, of his playoff experience that covers some 60 games, is sure to be a regular fixture against the Bruins. If his presence out there, even if it’s only for six minutes a game, can keep the Bruins honest, then he’ll have done his job.
Dropping Dandenault to defence makes all the sense in the world to me. He’s a defenceman. And with Andrei Markov still on the mend, he’s the guy I want to see patrolling the blueline. Not Ryan O’Byrne.
Gainey would apparently agree.
O’Byrne, along with Patrice Brisebois, looked to be the odd-men out at practice today on defence. Brisebois is likely to see his fair share of action against the Bruins. And, truth be told, he was arguably Montreal’s best D-man against the Bruins in the playoffs last season.
So, there you have it. The lineup that Gainey will throw out against the Bruins Thursday night in Boston. Is this a lineup that can beat the Bruins and take this series?
Remember Montreal’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Bruins last week, with the Habs coming away with the single point that would eventually “propel” (I use that word loosely) them into the post-season? I have a sneaking suspension that’s the kind of hockey we’re going to see from these two teams over next four to seven games. Lots of goals. Not enough goal tending.
I know what kind of season Tim Thomas has had in the Boston goal. I also know that the Canadiens can put the puck past Tim Thomas. And I’m willing to bet the Canadiens will pick up where they left off Thursday night in Boston, would they put four by the Bruins’ net minder.
I’m also willing to bet that, at some point in this series, we will see Jaroslav Halak in goal; perhaps lining up at centre ice with the rest of his team mates, when it comes time for the players to shake hands at the conclusion of a series that I believe the Habs will take.
In seven games.