The lights fade to black, plunging the Bell Centre crowd into total darkness. No sounds spare the random cackle from the feverish, enliven crowd. A deep voice cuts through the darkness.
”I’ve always had a lot of respect for those that came before us. I remember saying that we should keep, uphold, and if possible, better, the prestige of the organization. As well as the successes on the ice. It is now their turn, to uphold the good name of this organization. By their efforts and work ethic. A collective effort from all players because the only way to win a championship, is to play together.”
One last message from the great Jean Beliveau to the Montreal Canadiens’ players. Reminding them of the expectations that comes with wearing that jersey. But Michel Therrien’s men shouldn’t be needing extra motivation, they know why they are there, they know what they are playing for.
That much was made clear when Tomas Plekanec faced Kyle Turris on the opening faceoff. Both greeted each other with slashes to the legs. Little did they know how prophetic that would be.
The Bruisers and The Bruised
The Montreal Canadiens came out with a hunger, dominating the forecheck for the first 5 minutes of the game. Devante Smith-Pelly, who hadn’t made a significant impact with the Habs up to that point, tried to imprint his number in a couple of Senator’s skin. The Canadiens will need that kind of effort from their bottom six guys and they got it from Smith-Pelly Wednesday night. A big part as to why Ottawa’s top line couldn’t get any decent chance outside of the power play.
Brendan Gallagher was relentless on the forecheck but paid the price. Gallagher was repeatedly hit in Ottawa’s zone, often behind the play. Gallagher was still in Ottawa’s zone when the puck returned into the Montreal Canadiens’ zone and took a cross check that sent him to the ice in the first period. A blatant obstruction by Borowiecki that wasn’t called, the first of many questionable calls from the referees.
The first period ended with 18 hits for Ottawa, at least half of them laid on Brendan Gallagher. The Habs didn’t take it laying down however as they reciprocated 16 hits in the first period.
P.K. Subban, who always sticks out during the playoffs, again got himself noticed, for the wrong reasons. From a get-go he was targeted by the Senators, taking a couple of big hits along the boards.
In the first period, P.K. Subban tried to play a puck that was airborne, to clear it out of his zone. Subban lifted his stick in the air and as it came down, hit J.G. Pageau at the juncture of his helmet and visor. Pageau crumbled to the ice, holding his mouth. The referees where quick to call a high-sticking penalty.
The play being an obvious flop by Pageau was reversed after Subban and coach Michel Therrien pleaded their cause.
The other shoe didn’t take long to drop however. At 9:20 into the second period, the Montreal Canadiens were killing a penalty given to Lars Eller for high-sticking. Mark Stone, who already had a couple of run-ins with Subban at that point, skated across the crease. Subban two-handed slashed Stone’s right wrist.
Stone crumbled to the ice, holding his wrist and flopping around like Ash in Evil Dead 2. The slash, totally worth a penalty, earned Subban a five-minute major and a game misconduct. An exaggerated punishment for a slash that wasn’t even the worse thing to have happen in the game by that point. Eller’s high-stick, dangerously close to a butt-end in the clavicle area, was arguably worse.
The Montreal Canadiens made the referees look really bad in last year’s playoffs, tricking them into a few bad calls to their advantage. Now they are paying for it. Subban won’t have any leeway this post-season and Mark Stone took advantage of that. By taking Subban out of the game, the Montreal Canadiens were playing a playoff game without their two top-scorers.
In a game that finished with a total of 86 hits and just as many slashes and spears, if not more, that the Senators earned but two minor penalties throughout three periods is unusual to say the least.
Unlikely Defensive Heroes
The first defense pairing is one of the Montreal Canadiens’ greatest strength. Senators made sure to pressure them and tried to shut them out. Subban, though ejected from the game, managed to finish with two assists in 9:05 minutes of play. Markov however, played what probably was one of the worse games of his career. Deflecting a puck in his net in the first period and coughing the puck up, in front of his net, to Kyle Turris to start the second. Markov was in a scuffle after every whistle.
The Habs already needed their bottom pairings to be solid but now they had to step up and they answered the call. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, one of the players who sunk the Montreal Canadiens in the 2013 series, was kept in check and rendered useless by Nathan Beaulieu, who shadowed him all game.
Jeff Petry filled the void left by the ejection of P.K. Subban expertly. Petry played 24:39 and logged six shots on net. In the third period, Petry prevented what could’ve a been a tying fourth goal for Ottawa after skating back and taking the puck away from Kyle Turris on a partial breakaway.
Emelin and Gilbert played their part and dished out hits in their zone. Laying the hurt on whomever felt like playing the boards.
It is good very good news for the Montreal Canadiens that their defense could keep their heads above the water in a situation like this. They say defense wins championship and Game 1 was a good example why. They deserve a good portion of the credit for that win.
Started From The Bottom, Now They’re Here
Montreal’s GM, Marc Bergevin, again made his choices look real good with time. At the March 2nd Trade Deadline, Bergevin acquired players from cellar-dwelling team. Torrey Mitchell and Brian Flynn were acquired from Buffalo while Jeff Petry came over from Edmonton.
As mentioned above, Petry played his game expertly. While Mitchell and Flynn almost single-handedly won the game offensively. Mitchell opened the score for the Habs on a wrap-around goal that exposed Andrew Hammond’s weakness in lateral movements.
Flynn, who hadn’t put up a point in nine games with the Habs this year, finished the game with a goal and two assists.
While both teams top-six was well matched and kept in check on both sides, the Canadiens’ bottom-six took control of the game. With Pageau being kept in check by Beaulieu and Mike Hoffman going cold to finish the season, the Senators’ bottom lines were overwhelmed by the Canadiens’.
It remains to be seen if the Montreal Canadiens can keep up that kind of playing style outside of the Bell Centre but as long as the Habs have the last change, they have a potential scoring threat on every line.
It is not even conventional wisdom, only common sense to think that a team that finished the season 16th in the league in goals for (145) would be in trouble without Max Pacioretty and P.K. Subban, their top two regular season scorers, on the ice. But the Montreal Canadiens, to the ire of many, stuck to their defensive, neutral zone checking system throughout the season and now it is paying off.
After taking the puck away from Ottawa in the neutral zone on many occasions, provoking a series of breakaways. Of the four goals scored in the game, three came from the checking lines, one of them a short-handed goal by Lars Eller. Ottawa was given five power play opportunites, including a five-minute PP, and could only score two goals. The Montreal Canadiens’ stingy system kept them alive in Game 1.
After the second period, Ottawa was leading faceoffs, 29 (50.9%) to 28 (49.1%) and shots were equal at 26. With the one-goal lead, the Habs decided to shut it down in the third. By the end of the third period, the Montreal Canadiens were leading both faceoffs 39 (50.6%) to 38 (49.4%) and shots 39 to 33. David Desharnais (62%) and Torrey Mitchell (67%) were Montreal’ key faceoff men.
Dave Cameron isn’t an experienced NHL coach and he got caught off guard by a team that should’ve been in the ropes. The Sanators weren’t as much of threat in the third and looked spent after two grueling periods. Cameron took his frustration to the podium making veiled threats at P.K. Subban.
For the Montreal Canadiens, those threats are much more reassuring than intimidating. Cameron let his emotions get the best of him and showed the world he lost his means. On paper, the situations that occurred in game 1 should’ve led to a Ottawa victory. His team’s best effort could not put down a team that was already on one knee. He knew immediately after that game that the Senators’ best efforts won’t cut it against the Habs in a seven games series.
What Dave Cameron actually said at the podium after the game was:”We are beaten”
The Ottawa Senators are no push-overs and will most likely win a game or two on home-ice but the series will ultimately go to the Montreal Canadiens.