Two playoff games on the road in Tampa.
Two wins for your Montreal Canadiens.
The second W, on Friday night, was so convincing the guys on L’Antichambre described it as a “perfect game” for the Canadiens.
Coming home to what will be a loud, rockin’ Bell Centre on Sunday night, the Canadiens are just where they want to be in this Eastern Conference quarter-final:
They’ve got the Lightning by the bolts.
But while I hate to rain on anyone’s Easter parade, a brief history lesson may be in order.
To borrow a frequently used riff from the great Red Fisher, come with me now to the spring of 2011. The Canadiens, sixth-place finishers in the Eastern Conference, begin the playoffs in Boston, against the third-place Bruins.
Game 1: Brian Gionta scores twice (assists on both by Scott Gomez!) and Carey Price makes 31 saves to shut the Bruins out in their own barn.
Game 2: Michael Cammalleri and Mathieu Darche (!!) give the Canadiens a 2-0 lead before Patrice Bergeron halts Price’s playoff shutout streak at 97:38. Yannick Weber adds an insurance goal, and the Canadiens head back to the Bell Centre with a stranglehold on the series.
Borrowing again the immortal Redhead, the rest you know:
Boston jumps out to a 3-0 lead en route to a 4-2 win in game 3. Michael Ryder’s overtime goal wins Game 4. Game 5 is double-overtime thriller in Boston, won 2-1 by the Bruins when their 51st shot, by Nathan Horton, beats Price.
The Canadiens win Game 6 to stay alive, but Horton’s goal in OT wins Game 7 and propels the hated Bruins toward winning the Cup.
Can you stand just a bit more playoff history?
In 2002, Michel Therrien’s second season behind the Canadiens’ bench – and his first playoff appearance – begins with a six-game elimination of the Bruins. On to Carolina, where Therrien’s team gets a split to start the Conference semi-final.
Back in Montreal, the Canadiens win Game 3 and have Game 4 under control when Therrien takes a bench minor to give the Hurricanes a 5-on-3 power play.
The rest you know: Three straight wins by Carolina, the last an 8-2 pasting on Bell Centre ice.
And in 2006: two wins in Carolina to start the series. Then the Hurricanes win four straight.
1998: Two wins in New York to start the series, then the Rangers win four straight.
Alright class, you can close your history books. And none of this will be on the final exam.
The point is, to quote the immortal Yogi Berra, “it ain’t over till it’s over.”
The Canadiens undoubtedly are in control of this series. Their Game 2 effort was darn near perfect. And the 2014 Tampa Bay Lightning are not the 2011 Bruins or the 2002 Hurricanes.
But until these two teams are at centre ice shaking hands, there’s hockey to be played.
If, however, the Canadiens play as well as they did Friday night, Tampa Bay will need a miracle.
Maybe on Easter Sunday they will roll back the rock on the visitors’ dressing room and Ben Bishop will skate out for the warm-up. But the greater likelihood is Anders Lindback will get the call to give his team some life in this series.
It won’t be easy.
As was the case in Game 1, the Canadiens got balanced effort from all four of their forward lines, three of which produced goals.
As was the case in Overtime of Game 1, carey Price was oustanding – notably with a second-period save on Cedric Paquette when the Canadiens were leading 2-0. If Paquette had scored, the Tampa Times Forum would have gone berserk, and then who knows?
But he didn’t.
As was not the case through 60 minutes of Game 1, the Canadiens defence was rock solid, led by a magisterial performance from Andrei Markov.
Memo to Marc Bergevin: Stop dancing and sign this guy. P.K. is a suoperstar in the making, and he was superb in Game 2. But Markov is the General on the back end – always calm, always controlling the tempo of the game, always making the smart play.
Markov’s partner, Alexei Emelin, was better than in Game 1. Just two hits for the Russian tank, but Emelin blocked five shots and, save for an early rush by Tyler Johnson, was not beaten by Lightning speed.
The Canadiens’ forwards did a terrific job in support of the D. On the rare occasions when a blue jersey was on the puck, there was a swarm of white fighting to get it back.
Every Canadien played well. Brandon Prust was better than in Game 1, Tomas Plekanec was customarily excellent and Lars Eller continued to prove he elevates his game in the postseason. Brendan Gallagher was at his buzzsaw best and scored his third goal in seven career playoff games.
Rene Bourque? What can I say … except to admit that as the playoffs began, I’d have happily traded Bourque for a dog.
And shot the dog.
But through two playoff games, Bourque has hustled and used his size effectively. And he demonstrated a scoring touch that produced a couple of 27-goal seasons in Calgary. Props to the Canadiens coaching staff for getting Bourque motivated.
But maybe it’s peer pressure.
In his postgame remarks, Therrien lauded a “complete team effort”. He praised his players for managing the puck, checking effectively and sticking to a game plan that stressed responsibility in the defensive zone and pressure on a Tampa Bay defence corps that was exposed as slow and jittery.
Therrien praised his players concentration on the task at hand. The coach said his team was “emotionally stable” and not looking beyond each successive game.
So far, so great.
But just to be on the safe side, I don’t think Therrien should wear the 2002 vintage mustard-coloured jacket for Game 3.
• • •
• The way they were: P.K. and Stamkos
• Couldn’t you just watch this over and over forever?
• And in case you missed the latest example of Milan Lucic scumbaggery: