Tonight’s Game 6 between Boston and Montreal should be another classic, as the Bruins try to do something they have never done (win a series after being down 2-0) and close out the Canadiens in Montreal. The Canadiens, meanwhile, will be looking to force a Game 7 after devastating overtime losses in Games 4 and 5. Almost every game in this series has been entertaining, so there is no reason to think Game 6 will be any different.
The teams had an extra day of rest, and it is hard to tell who that will benefit more. Both teams looked tired in the second OT (as expected), Montreal will benefit from the extra day to recover from a demoralizing loss, while Boston’s Zdeno Chara got one more day to recover from the flu (or whatever ailment) that knocked him out of Game 2 and has clearly slowed him a bit in Games 3, 4, and 5.
Montreal’s Key to Victory
1. Get the lead: The Canadiens have been great when they have the lead. Even so, it is even more important in this game as Montreal still has to be feeling the sting of losing Game 4 and 5 – both games they easily could have won.
2. Be first on the puck, and get the puck out of the zone quickly: Montreal cannot afford to let Boston get the kind of quality chances it had in Games 4 and 5. Boston’s forwards have been much more aggressive and doing a better job of working down low and cycling, which forces the Canadiens out of their defensive shell in the slot, thus opening up better scoring chances.
3. Finish their chances: The Canadiens put 45 shots on Tim Thomas, who did play well, but they also missed several goalmouth chances, including three or four backdoor opportunities.
4. Pressure Boychuk: Montreal exposed Johnny Boychuk in Game 5, making the blueliner look like a pylon on several plays. However, they were unable to finish their chances (see No. 3).
5. Don’t panic: The pressure is squarely on the Canadiens, and they need to use that to create energy, not play tight. If they play tight, Boston eliminates them tonight for sure.
Boston’s Keys to Victory:
1. Score first: The team that has scored first has won all but one game in the series, so that’s reason number one why this is important. The second reason is the Bruins have the Canadiens on the ropes, and scoring the first goal would go a long way in deflating the Habs to deliver the knockout blow.
2. Cover the slot and backdoor: Montreal has had too many backdoor chances, scoring three goals in Game 4 on passes to wide-open forwards on the backdoor. The Habs missed several similar chances in Game 5. Boston needs to shut down that pass and make sure they do not leave the slot to chase the puck behind the goal, as Gregory Campbell did on Jeff Halpern’s goal on Saturday.
3. Play like they did in Game 5: On Saturday, the Bruins did all the little things you need to do to win
games: win faceoffs, win battles on the wall, control the puck down low, and block shots. Credit Michael Ryder for a lot of this. The much-maligned (deservedly so, I might add) winger changed the series with his performance in Game 4, and played a great two-way game in Game 5. His energy has been contagious, as he and linemates Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly have given the Bruins a lift with their speed and jump.
4. Tim Thomas plays like he did in Game 5: Thomas played great in Game 5 and took a huge step forward to eliminating the “not a playoff goalie” talk. Another great performance to eliminate the Canadiens in Montreal would probably eliminate the talk – at least until the next game. It is Boston after all!
5. Apply pressure and cycle: The Bruins have been all over the Montreal defense the last two games, and have done a much better job of cycling the puck to open up space in the slot. They haven’t forced plays to the slot and this has opened up a number of quality scoring chances. David Krejci needs to finally finish, as he has had at least one golden opportunity to score in each game.
Goals: Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, Andrei Kostitsyn 2
Assists: Cammalleri 5
Points: Cammalleri 7
Plus-Minus: Roman Hamrlik (plus-2)
Hits: Ryan White 21
Blocked shots: Hal Gill 14
Shots: Gionta 23
Goals: Patrice Bergeron, Chris Kelly, Michael Ryder, Nathan Horton 2
Assists: Bergeron 4
Points: Bergeron 6
Plus-Minus: Bergeron (plus-4)
Hits: Bergeron 18
Blocked shots: Dennis Seidenberg 14
Shots: Bergeron 20
Prediction: This is a tough one. These teams have been pretty even and almost every game could have gone either way. Logic says Montreal will not be eliminated at home, especially by Boston, but the Bruins have momentum on their side and Bergeron playing the best hockey of his career. Boston, 4-2 (3-2 with empty netter) as Krejci finally breaks the ice with a goal and an assist.
(Steve Kendall is a freelance writer with 20 years experience covering hockey at all levels. In addition to thehockeywriters.com, he has written for The Boston Herald, The New England Hockey Journal, and The Worcester Telegram & Gazette.)