A split on the road to open the series?
Best-of-five with home-ice advantage?
Before the Eastern Conference semifinal began, most Canadiens fans would have been content with that scenario.
But on this Saturday evening, there are long faces, furrowed brows and frazzled nerves in heretofore happy Habland.
The hibernating Boston Bruins have been awakened from their spring slumber.
And things could get ugly.
The Canadiens have plenty of time to recover from that shocking loss – their first setback of this year’s postseason.
Game 3 isn’t until Tuesday evening, in the friendly confines of the Bell Centre.
And there’s no shame in losing a game to the President’s Trophy winners … least of all in their own building, in front of their rabid, intimidating fans.
The manner of the loss, however …
That one’s gotta hurt.
It was more than eight minutes in before the Bruins registered their first shot of the third period. By then, the Canadiens had four shots and Thomas Vanek’s second power-play goal of the game had given them a 3-1 lead.
Not three minutes later, Dougie Hamilton scored on Boston’s second shot of the period. The Bruins’ fifth shot was a goal by Patrice Bergeron, and Reilly Smith beat Carey Price with the home team’s seventh shot.
And, for doomsayers on Twitter, series.
Which is WAY premature.
Boston’s win was a tribute to their talent, their character, their toughness and their absolute refusal to quit. We saw it in the opening round of the playoffs, when Boston dropped the first game on home ice and then ousted Detroit in four straight.
The possibility of history repeating itself is undoubtedly on the minds of the Bruins.
But the Canadiens aren’t the Red Wings. And Carey Price isn’t Jimstav Howardsson.
But there were times, during that epic collapse, when Carey Price wasn’t Carey Price. Three goals on seven shots? That’s an aberration.
And Price didn’t get any help from his teammates, who reacted to the Boston surge with the sang froid and aplomb of Pauline Marois on election night.
As the nightmare unfolded like a slow-motion train wreck, the Canadiens were as shellshocked as Quebec hapless former premier. The Hamilton goal lit a spark that quickly grew into a conflagration.
The key question: Did the Boston explosion blow up the Carey Price mystique?
Through more than six periods of hockey, the Canadiens’ goaltender had taken up residence in the Bruins’ heads. While Price was making brilliant saves – 73 SoG turned away through one OT game and two periods of another – the Bruins were hitting posts and crossbars, shooting wide of open nets and firing pucks at sprawling white jerseys (30 blocked Boston shots in Game 1, 31 more on Saturday.)
This can happen in the playoffs. In 2010, Jaro Halak did it to Washington and Pittsburgh – each of which had more firepower than Boston.
But the Penguins and Capitals proved to be paper tigers, fragile teams lacking a quality that makes Boston special:
We’ll find out in Game 3 if the Canadiens have it.
There are positive signs.
P.K. Subban was held off the scoresheet in the opener of the Tampa Bay series and has points in every game since.
Thomas Vanek finally got off the schneid with two on Tuukka.
Mike Weaver scored and blocked four shots.
The power play – dreadful down the stretch of the regular season and through the sweep of the Lightning – is four for nine against Boston.
The disciplined Canadiens have been shorthanded only five times in the series. And the penalty kill is perfect through two games – including a heroic 5-on-3 disadvantage.
Lars Eller, Rene Bourque and Brian Gionta had their moments – while each finishing minus-3 – as did a rejigged line that included Michäel Bournival, Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher.
Michel Therrien created the latter trio by dropping Brandon Prust down to the fourth line, with Dale Weise and Daniel Brière. Prust is a warrior, but it’s obvious he’s hurting. And his diminished capacity for the rough stuff deprives the Canadiens of an element that’s essential to counter the physical ferocity of the Bruins.
Zdeno Chara, who was plus-5, had five hits in Game 2. Milan Lucic had six.
The renascent Rene Bourque had five hits for the Canadiens. But a Bourque check doesn’t hurt quite as much as being thumped by Lucic or Chara.
The hulking Boston defenceman has laid some big thumps on Max Pacioretty. And the Canadiens’ leading scorer looks like he’s feeling the pain.
The whole team has to be aching after a very tough loss.
They say two goals is the most dangerous lead in hockey.
But with nine minutes left and Carey Price in nets …
• Troubling stat: Through two games, Boston has 160 shot attempts (SoG=misses=Blocked shots). The Canadiens have 112.