About this afternoon …

Take that, NBC!

How does the CH feel wedged up your sun belt strategy, Gary?

Despite a TV-dictated schedule that had them playing the well-rested Stanley Cup champions twice in less than 48 hours, your Montreal Canadiens are coming home with a split.

In his post-game remarks, Jacques Martin repeated his usual mantra on goaltending and special teams.

He praised the Canadiens’ “poise and puck management”, the leadership of veterans such as Scott Gomez, Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta, the inspired play of the third line: Dominic Moore centring Max Lapierre and Tom Pyatt.

What JM failed to mention – low-key, modest fellow that he is – was coaching.

Through seven games of the opening series and two in Pittsburgh, Martin has done a masterful job of manipulating a roster depleted of the Canadiens’ best player.

I think there were two important story lines in this game: Time on Ice and discipline.

With Andrei Markov unavailable, Martin and Perry Pearn juggled their defence pairings and got heroic efforts from all six Dmen. 

Roman Hamrlik, who had to pick up the Markov slack through the early part of the schedule and looked spent against Washington, played a rock-solid 23:29 and had three of the Canadiens’ blocked shots.

Josh Gorges played 24:13. He and Hal Gill (21:42) were plus-2 on the game.

P.K. Subban had played 10:50 in Game 7 against the Caps and 19:40 in the series opener on Friday night. His ToI was 23:17 – including 3:03 when the Canadiens were shorthanded and 2:31 on the PP, where he fired a shot right on net that became Cammalleri’s eighth goal of the playoffs

Welcome to The Show, kid. And rent an apartment, because you’re going to be in Montreal for a long time.

Ryan O’Byrne played a modest 13:37 but had four big hits. And Marc-André Bergeron’s 13:56 included four hits and little of the jittery play we always fret about.

MAB is a frequent whipping boy on this site, and I usually wield the cat o’nine personally. But since Markov went down, the team’s number 7 Dman has stepped up.

As adroitly as Martin managed minutes among the defencemen, I thought his deployment of forwards was particularly brilliant. 

Promoted back to various configurations of the top two lines, Benny Pouliot played 18:19 and led the team with six hits. His work on the forecheck created the loose puck that Gomez jumped on and fed Gionta for the 1-1 tying goal.

Cammalleri, who’s playing like his hair is on fire, Gomez (whose hair would be on fire if he had any), Gionta and Plekanec all played in excess of 20 minutes as Martin shortened the bench to three forward lines.

This meant two shifts each for Ben Maxwell and Mathieu Darche, three for Andrei Kostitsyn, who was used on the power play.

The fourth line was one for Pittsburgh’s only goal. Maxwell lost a faceoff, darche lost a puck battle on the boards, AK46 lost Matt Cooke, who scored, and that was their afternoon.

Can you win a war of attrition with three lines?

We’ll see. Today it worked.

Let’s talk about discipline.

In the series opener, Gionta took a tripping penalty eight minutesinto the first period. Sergei Gonchar scored all of 26 seconds later, and the Pittsburgh power-play was off on a 4-for-4 tear.

In Game 2, the Canadiens weren’t penalized until 19:545 into the second period, when Hal Gill went off for an interference that saved a scoring chance.

On fresh ice and with well-rested players to start the third period, the Canadiens killed Gill’s penalty and another to Mike Cammalleri, who went off for high-sticking 28 seconds after Gill returned.

The PK was a perfect 3-for-3, allowing only four shots on goal in six minutes and picking up where the Canadiens left off against Washington.

And the best penalty-killer was, of course, Jaro Halak.

The guy is amazing.

Jaro looked gassed in Game 1. And I’m not ashamed to admit I was among the brilliant hockey minds who thought Carey Price should have started today to give Halak extra rest.

That’s why Martin coaches the team and I tap inanities on a computer keyboard.

Jaro made 38 saves.

I thought the Dmen and forwards did a good job of keeping the danger area clear and making sure their goaltender saw everything. But Halak bounced back with the kind of effort that’s going to get Price traded.

Game 3 will be pivotal.

The Penguins studied the Washington series and learned enough to romp in Game 1.

With Markov on the shelf, the defending Cup champs probably thought they’d be leaving Pittsburgh with a 2-0.

Surprise! And not a very pleasant surprise, judging by how frustrated and petulant Sidney Crosby became as the game wore on.

Now all those Québécois homeboys and their leader, an honourary Quebecer who played junior in the Q, can get a taste of what the Bell Centre was like for Game 6 of the Washington series.

It could get loud.

•  •  •

The Canadiens will play a minimum of 12 playoff games this season.

Last year it was four and fore.

Anyone miss Alex Kovalev?

How about Mike Komisarek?

Christopher Higgins?


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