It’s somehow refreshing to be reminded, on a fairly regular basis, that I’m a dunce who doesn’t know anything about hockey.
Case in point: Game 1 of the Canadiens-Capitals playoff series.
I looked at the numbers and concluded there was no way the number eight seed was beating the top-seeded team in the NHL. Certainly not in a best-of-seven series, and probably not in the opening game in Washington.
Well … wrong again. Pending the result of the L.A.-Vancouver game, underdogs have won five of six opening games.
Included was a Number 8, Colorado, beating a number 1, San Jose, on Wednesday night.
But your Montreal Canadiens topped that – if only because we are no longer surprised by anything the Sharks do to crap the tank in the playoffs.
I was one of the Gloomy Guses who, when asked for a view of this series, confidently predicted Capis in three.
There was just no way a team that stumbled and bumbled and scraped into the playoffs by virtue of the one lousy point they finally earned against lowly Toronto could compete with an NHL juggernaut whose star-studded lineup includes the league’s second-best player.
(I’m a Sid guy.)
Let’s outline the assumtpions that the game proved utterly wrong:
• Jaro Halak, who was not good against the Leafs, has hit the wall. He’s a small goaltender whose regular-season and Olympic load is finally taking its toll. We’ll see Carey Price in Game 2.
Oops! Jaro made 45 saves, including 18 in the first period. He held the Canadiens in the game until they found their legs and played the Caps even through the last 53 minutes of the game.
• Tomas Plekanec is too frail for the number of minutes he’s played this year. He faded down the stretch and won’t be a factor in the playoffs.
Oops! Pleks has five shots on goal, the last of which is a 40-foot laser that beats José Theodore to win the game.
• Jacques Martin is an old-fashioned coach, freeze-dried in the 1980s and incapable of in-game adjustments.
Oops! Martin somehow sold the virtue of forechecking to his troops between the first and second periods. He even used a timeout to rest hius players after an icing call.
After dominating early, the Capitals found themselves under pressure in their own end, a relentlessness – keyed by the Canadiens’ third and fourth lines – that took its toll on the Caps D, notably Mike Green.
The Norris Trophy candidate kind of sucked.
And the perennial Hart Trophy contender totally sucked.
Through almost four complete periods of hockey, Alexander Ovechkin was held pointless and did not register a shot on goal. The Canadiens D, primarily Hal Gill, Jaro Spacek and Josh Georges, did a superb job of taking away Ovie’s time and space, confining his frenzied bursts to areas of the ice where he could do the least damage.
Bruce Boudreau said his superstar “didn’t play good”. On the rush leading to the winning goal, Ovie played bad, lollygagging on his way to the bench for a line change as Pleks zoomed up ice.
• Marc-André Bergeron is too small to play against the Washington beheomoths. The Canadiens should have dressed Ryan O’Byrne.
Oops. MAB played 27:37 – one second less than Andrei Markov. Bergeron was aggressively forechecked by the big Washington forwards, but he shook off the abuse to make adroit first passes and clear the zone with surprising ease.
I wasn’t wrong about everything.
I thought Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta, with their Stanley Cup-winning experience in New Jersey, would excel. And they did, along with linemate Benoit Pouliot, who has snapped out of his late-season slump to display the skills that excited fans when he was acquired.
The line’s passing, to set up Gomez for the second goal, was exquisite.
I thought Mike Cammalleri showed signs,m against Toronto, of finally recapturing his pre-injury form. He scored the first goal of the game on a power play, skated miles and battled hard on every shift. Cammalleri’s industriousness was matched by linemate Andrei Kostitsyn, whose strength, speed and rarely-seen determination bedevilled the Washington D.
Like the Flyers, Senators and Avalanche, the Canadiens have seized home-ice advantage.
I still can’t see them beating the Capitals four times – in Washington, at the Bell Centre or on the dark side of the moon.
But what do I know?