My cautionary notes after Game 2 enraged many members of the Commentariat.
I had cited some recent postseasons in which the Canadiens had lost playoff series after winning the first two games on the road: quarter-finals against Boston in 2011, Carolina in 2006 and the Rangers in 1996.
Let’s not not count our chickens, I urged, until they’d hatched.
To which several HIO readers responded: Go cluck yourself.
I won’t make that mistake.
Tonight’s history lesson is much more positive.
The last time the Canadiens took a 3-0 lead in a playoff series was the Division final against Buffalo in 1993.
They went on to sweep the Sabres and then beat the Islanders in five games before facing the L.A. Kings in the Stanley Cup final.
And we all know what happened in that series.
So shall we pick out spots on the parade route?
Not just yet. Your Canadiens have to win 13 more playoff games to match the heroics of ’93.
But we couldn’t have wanted – and, let’s be honest, few expected – a better start: Three wins against a Tampa Bay team that somehow managed to pip the Canadiens for second place in the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division.
The 3-2 squeaker Sunday night certainly wasn’t as one-sided as the Canadiens’ emphatic 4-1 win in Game 2. But many of the elements that have been constants through the series were much in evidence Sunday night: solid goaltending, team defence, balanced scoring, discipline and composure.
Oh, and that guy wearing jersey number 17.
Who is he? And what has he done with Rene Bourque?
Desperately needing a win in the series, Tampa Bay skated out into Bell Centre pandemonium and fell behind 11 seconds into the game. Sprung in alone by a P.K. Subban pass, Bourque scored his third goal of the series, a Twitter wag suggested, “before Ginette Reno had made it off the ice.”
Bourque had eight shots on goal. He has 15 in the series, along with eight hits. His dashes down left wing electrified the Bell Centre crowd. Along with linemates Lars Eller and Brian Gionta, Bourque is making something positive happen on every shift.
The Canadiens played a superb first period and could have been up by three or four were it not for some big stops by Anders Lindback. They lost the lead in the second period when Ondrej Palat scored all of 25 seconds into a Tampa Bay power play. And the Canadiens caught a break when Ryan Callahan’s goal was disallowed.
P.K. Subban made a spectacular play deep in the Lightning zone – Palat, trying to cover him, got flummoxed so thoroughly his stick got caught in the back of the net – and fed Brendan Gallagher to make it 2-1. Then in the third period, Tomas Plekanec scored what proved to be the winner.
In his postgame remarks, Michel Therrien heaped praise on Subban, who played 28 minutes. The play setting up Gallagher’s goal was vintage P.K. and brought the fans to their feet, but Therrien pointed out it was also a smart lay in which Subban protected the puck, did not try to force it through three pairs of skates and found Gallagher for a high-quality chance that the winger buried.
Smart, coach-pleasing hockey.
And has been the case through three games, we saw good plays from all four lines and every member of the defence corps.
The Canadiens didn’t run Tampa Bay out of the rink. The Lightning are a fast, energetic team; and their pressure for an equalizer during the game’s final minutes had the fans in a frenzy.
The guys on TSN 690′s postgame show talked about the degree to which the Bell Centre crowd is the Canadiens’ seventh man. The Lightning dressed a dozen players who are making their postseason debuts this spring. But if the noisy arena intimidated the kids in white jerseys, they didn’t show it.
Nor does the crowd influence the men in striped shirts. The disallowed goal was a tough call, and Steven Stamkos was whistled offside on a play when he probably wasn’t. But on balance, the zebras did a decent job.
Of course, the refs are not being unduly tested. The Canadiens and Lightning both stress skill and speed. There’s plenty of hitting – Ryan Callahan and Radko Gudas each had six of Tampa Bay’s 40; Max Pacioretty four of the Canadiens’ 22 – but neither lineup includes a take-no-prisoners type like Milan Lucic or some of the big thumpers in the Western Conference.
Is it premature to wonder how the Canadiens will fare against a more physical opponent in the next round?
• The pre-game videos blew everyone away: