"For some reason, against the Montreal Canadiens, the Boston Bruins don't play their game."
This is an oft repeated phrase in the media. On the face of it, it's kind of true. The Boston Bruins routinely dominate 28 teams in the NHL, yet lose consistently to the Montreal Canadiens, and have for years. But here's the problem with this notion, the Bruins don't play in a vacuum. Their play is not independent of their opponent, and as much as certain members of the media would like to spin it another way, the Bruins don't lose to the Canadiens, the Canadiens beat the Bruins.
This notion that the Bruins get caught up in playing a different way is pure fiction, created out of a lack of an ability to find out why the Canadiens, an inferior team by all accounts, are able to win so many hockey games against them. Even Canadiens fans and media are guilty of this false narrative.
During The Drive Show on TSN 690 yesterday, Mitch Melnick played an epic, near 20-minute compilation of highlights, post game quotes, and music to sum up the series to open the show, then talked about how the Bruins play the Canadiens different than other teams, after another member of the show mentioned that the Canadiens didn't let the Bruins use their inherent goonery as a tactic to give them a leg up.
Mitch brought up last year's series against the Leafs, and the Stanley Cup final against the Canucks, as series that the Bruins didn't use goonery to win, but they did. Ask Leafs fans about the flying elbow to the head to James van Riemsdyk. The Leafs lost that series more due to being the inferior team, but the Bruins still played their game. The case is even stronger in the finals against the Canucks, where Johnny Boychuk broke Mason Raymond's back, and Brad Marchand continually proved he was a punk, while scoring key goals on a Vancouver team that didn't know how to respond.
The Canucks didn't know how to respond, that's the key phrase there. Not many teams do. The Chicago Blackhawks figured it out last season, when for a time it looked like Boston was gaining control of the series, but very few teams have figured out the Bruins. The Habs have.
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The Bruins are a fantastic team that dominates with five-man units, easily the best perimeter team in the NHL, and I mean that as a compliment. When most teams have the puck on the perimeter, they aren't dangerous, but the Bruins are. They move the puck so well and so quickly, that defensive systems and positioning break down, and before you know it, a harmless looking play is in the back of your net.
Their system hinges on activating their defense in every play, having them be unafraid to make plays at the blueline that other teams wouldn't make, risky plays. Montreal countered that by not being afraid to have a forward fly the zone if there was a good chance the Habs could gain possession, and being aggressive at the blueline and in the neutral zone to cause turnovers in transition. Those adjustments ended up resulting in four Habs goals scored on odd-man rushes or breakaways, three in the first three games, after which Boston's defensemen were far more hesitant jumping into the play.
There have been a lot of words written about respect in the last 48 hours, something the Canadiens felt they didn't get enough of from the Bruins. The Habs clearly used this perception, whether you agree with it or not, as extra motivation to stick it to Boston. It wasn't mentioned much until Game 7, but the result has been some very hamfisted articles about the situation, the worst coming from the usually excellent Nick Cotsonika of Yahoo! Sports.
By the tone of his article, Nick seemed to take the complaints from certain Habs at an almost personal level. Let's go over some excerpts, but read the whole article to ensure I'm not taking anything out of context here.
"The Montreal Canadiens want respect, but this isn't how to get it - whining about how the pundits didn't pick them, complaining about how the Boston Bruins treated them, acting like they accomplished something substantial by winning a second-round series."
Yeah, complaining after the fact isn't how you gain respect, I think we can all agree. You know how you gain respect? Beating the best team in the league in the playoffs. Pretty sure ousting the President's Trophy winners, a team that won it all three years ago and got within arm's reach last season, is an accomplishment worth noting. To do it when everyone said you couldn't, I think it's pretty understandable why they have a chip on their collective shoulder.
"What great things have the Canadiens done in recent years? What respect do they deserve? What have they earned?
They went on a Cinderella run to the Eastern Conference final as an eighth seed in 2010. They took the Bruins to overtime of Game 7 in the first round in 2011 - and lost. They didn't make the playoffs in 2011-12 and got a general manager and two coaches fired. They went back to the playoffs in 2013 - and lost to the seventh-seeded Ottawa Senators in five games.
I don't think you'd find many people who would tell you the Canadiens have been one of the most successful franchises in the NHL of late, but talking down what they've done without, you know, actually talking about those things, seems like you're glossing over some stuff that might be important.
For starters, the Canadiens, from what I've read and heard, haven't been asking to be treated as if they're Cup contenders, they just don't like being looked at as also-rans. Despite a rough season, they still amassed 100 points, and heading to the conference finals now, they clearly deserve more respect than what the Bruins showed them. And yes, there was a lack of respect in the series. All you have to do is look at Milan Lucic's antics in the handshake line, or his post game interview. It's beyond clear.
Yes, the 2010 run to the conference finals was a Cinderella run, no one denies it. Does that mean that the Canadiens didn't oust the President's Trophy winners and defending Stanley Cup champions in back-to-back series? Because I'm pretty sure they did, and I'm pretty sure that's an accomplishment worth some respect, no matter how they did it.
More important than that, since punching their ticket to the conference finals this year, the Canadiens are one of just three Eastern Conference teams to make the conference finals twice in the last five seasons, no team has made it more often, and the only ones to match it are Boston, and the New York Rangers, who will face Montreal in the next series.
Yes, the Canadiens lost to the Bruins in 2011 in a tightly-fought seven-game series that went to overtime on three occasions. They did so without the services of Max Pacioretty, whose neck was broken by Bruins captain Zdeno Chara shortly before the playoffs began, without Andrei Markov, without Josh Gorges, with acquisition James Wisniewski suffering from a back injury that slowed him to a crawl, with David Desharnais out of the series due to an ugly knee-on-knee, with Lars Eller battling a separated shoulder thanks to an armbar applied by a Bruin who thought the series was the WWE instead of the NHL, and with an obviously concussed Jeff Halpern after a dirty hit by Andrew Ference.
They were a rag-tag group of injured players and AHL call ups, and they fought the Bruins harder than any other team that playoffs, but they lost, so let's write that off as well.
Yes, they collapsed in 2012, due in large part to an early run of injuries, and a panicky, unstable general manager firing a competent coach. The Habs players got two coaches fired? Way to not pay attention to what happened.
They followed up that outlier, collapse of a season by taking the last ever Northeast Division title, but were stymied by incredible goaltending in round one, and were failed by an injured Carey Price. But let's not mention that, let's dwell on Ben Bishop being out against the Lightning. We can't have both sides of a story here.
"Let's be real: The Canadiens held on for dear life for the second half of Game 7 as the Bruins pressured. Jarome Iginla cut their lead to 2-1 with a deflection on a power play late in the second, and he hit the outside of the left post in the third - maybe the 11th time the Bruins struck iron in the series. It wasn't until a puck went in off one of Chara's skates on a power play late in the third that it was 3-1 and the Habs could celebrate. If not for Carey Price, his posts and his crossbar, this might have been different. The Bruins had 56.9 percent of the shot attempts in the seven games."
Oh, now we're being real? Allow me to also be real. In that series against the Tampa Bay Lightning that you brushed off as the Bolts not having Ben Bishop, the Canadiens had 56.3% of the shot attempts, and that was while leading for the lion's share of the series. In the series the Canadiens lost to the Ottawa Senators last season, they had 53.0% of the shot attempts.
The Canadiens held on for dear life in Game 7 because they had a two-goal lead and score effects exist. Teams up by two goals sit on the lead, it's why two goal leads are considered not safe.
And as for the Bruins dominating the series, in total, they did. Over the last five games of the series? They didn't. In Games 1 and 2, the Canadiens looked horrible, couldn't get their feet moving, and got burnt in possession to the tune of nearly 65% in favour of the Bruins. From there on out, it was essentially even.
In fact, if you remove the 36.3 minutes that Douglas Murray played, the Canadiens had 51.3% of the shot attempts in the last five games while the score was close, and 53.8% of the shots on net. They outshot the Bruins at even strength, and in total when Murray was off. It's almost like they gave the Bruins a handicap, and they still pulled it off.
Montreal led on the scoreboard for 50.3% of all 5-on-5 play in the series, to just 11.9% for Boston. There are more factors that go into a series than raw shot-attempt numbers, as I'm sure the Bruins would tell you now.
"I'm sure my dad is a proud dad today," said Subban, who turned 25 on Tuesday. "Like he said, ‘You're 25 now, and there'll be no better gift than to bring the 25th Stanley Cup back to Montreal.' I mean, we're a long way from that still, but we just took a huge step forward in getting that."
Long way? The Habs are only halfway. Win two more rounds, win that 25th Cup, and they can talk. They'll have all the respect they could ever want.
I'm not sure what to make of this, to be honest. Ending the article with this snide comment shows exactly what Cotsonika was going for. How he could possibly take umbrage with Subban saying they have a long way to go, when they're halfway there, is beyond me. What was he supposed to say? Very long way?
When you take a player quote, and attempt to manipulate it in order to drive home a point that makes no sense, it just looks bad.
At the end of the day, a team that no one expected to get out of the first round just played a seven-game series against arguably the best team in the league. The Bruins lobbied for calls in the media, they were cheap, they cheated (Thornton spraying water from the bench), they dove, they threw every possible thing they could at the Montreal Canadiens, and the Canadiens won. Against their biggest rivals, they answered critics.
Yeah, I think respect has been earned.