I suppose, in hindsight, the Boston Bruins are delivering exactly what we all should have expected.
After all, how could any of us have expected this Montreal Canadiens team, who managed to squeeze into the playoffs with a LOSS (remember that single point in the Habs’ 5-4 overtime defeat in Boston April 9th?) to compete with a very talented Boston Bruins club.
How could any of us expected these Canadiens, who haven’t won since Andrei Markov went down with a knee injury, to have a hope in hell of beating a Bruins team that finished first in the Eastern Conference?
Yet, Habs fans held out hope, after a game-one loss that saw the Canadiens outplay the Bruins, right in their own backyard, through 40 minutes, before losing 4-2 on an empty-net goal.
THAT was the game the Canadiens had within their grasp. THAT was the game the Canadiens needed to steal. THAT was the game the Canadiens could have won. Win that one, and who knows what this series would like like now?
Well, I can tell you what this series looks like now: a sweep waiting to happen, following last night’s gutsy, but losing, 4-2 effort to the Bruins at the Bell Centre.
But, really, what did you expect from the Canadiens, who dropped a bombshell during the warmup skate, when it became clear that neither Mathieu Schneider nor Alex Tanguay, two of their best players, would be in the lineup because of upper-body injuries. The only thing as surprising as that announcement was the fact that Bob Gainey opted to go with BOTH Ryan O’Byrne and Yannick Weber on defence, leaving veteran Patrice Brisebois as a healthy scratch.
Truth be told, those young men both performed admirably. Weber, after some soft play along the boards deep in the Montreal zone that led to a goal by Shawn Thornton, set up Chris Higgins with a lovely outlet pass for Higgins’ second goal of the playoffs. And Weber scored the other Montreal goal himself with a snap shot from the point. The goal by Weber tied the game at two early in the second, after Higgins’ marker had put the Habs ahead 1-0 in a first period that saw the Habs produce their best 20 minutes of hockey in this series.
While guys like Roman Hamerlik at minus 3, and Mike Komisarek at minus 2,struggled all night (although to be fair to Hamerlik, both he and Josh Gorges played monster minutes last night), O’Byrne seized the opportunity to deliver one of his best performances on Bell Centre ice. He was poised and in control of his game, and delivered a huge blow-up hit on Mark Recchi that sent the veteran into next week.
But after a splendid opening period, the tide began to turn, with the Bruins, at one point in the second period, enjoying a 16-4 run in shots on goal. And after Michael Ryder (?!) beat Carey Price at 17:21 of the middle frame to give the Bruins their first lead of the night, at 3-2, this one was effectively over. The Canadiens had officially run out of gas. Held to just five shots on goal, the Canadiens, along with their inept 0-for-3 power play, failed to generate any serious pressure over the final 20 minutes.
But, really. What did you expect?
And so, the Montreal Canadiens are one loss away from closing the book on this wretched 100th season. Even during the darkest days of this season (and there were plenty of them) things never looked as bleak as they do right now for this Habs’ team. There’s the obvious reason, of course. Down 3-0 in this series, the Canadiens must now try to mount a comeback that, if actually successful, would be as monumental as their Centennial Season, itself.
The other reason?
Through all the turmoil, both on and off the ice, through all the injuries, through all the rumours, through all the accusations, through all of it, Canadiens fans held out hope that at some point during the season, the Habs would somehow find the answers that have eluded them since day one, and live up to their billing as the team to beat in the East.
Now Habs’ fans are looking at sucking on the bitter aftertaste of a season filled with hope and promise, and one that, barring a miracle on ice, will end tomorrow night with an eighth straight loss.