Beginning the second round of the 2014 NHL playoffs, the Canadiens did their job in Boston. Heartbreaking as it was, with the Canadiens coming within a hair's breadth of a 2-0 series lead, the Habs did well to come back to the Bell Centre with the series tied at one.
While the Habs will likely have to win at least one game in Boston to win this series, playing in Montreal affords them a significant advantage. The theory going into Game 3 was that last change would change the dynamic of the series, and sas it happened, that's just how things played out in Game 3. Now, if the Canadiens can find a way to win one more time, they'll head back to Boston with a stranglehold on their second round series.
Before we delve into what changed in Game 3, it's worth noting that some positive trends continued without adjustment. Carey Price still hasn't allowed a goal on a shot that he's actually seen come at him, as Patrice Bergeron used some arcane stickwork to notch Boston's first of the game. As the third period reached its waning moments, Jarome Iginla raised the Montreal fanbase's collective blood pressure when his low slot tip dropped the puck like a Roy Halladay curveball. Given how fundamentally solid Price has been, with his impeccable positioning and effortless flow through the crease, there's a case to be made that his results actually make him unlucky so far in this series. The Bruins are sure to mount a mighty push back this evening, and luck notwithstanding, the Habs need their keeper to maintain his consistently high level of play.
P.K. Subban, meanwhile, has continued his reign as the best skater on the ice. He's played at least 27 minutes in all three games of the series, including almost 34 in a lengthy Game 1. He's been absurdly dominant throughout.
Matched up against the Bruins' best, including Brad Marchand, Reilly Smith, Dougie Hamilton, and Chargeron, Subban and his teammates allowed only one Boston goal (the Bergeron line's lowest output of the series) while Subban had his team's best possession numbers. Of course, the only thing that the hockey world remembers is this:
As has been the case since the beginning of the playoffs, Subban and Price have been playing to the top of their immense talents. The Canadiens need their best players to continue to be the series' best players.
So, while the Habs were able to maintain many of the things that they'd done well this point, they also made some important adjustments that immediately bore fruit. Subban's strong game was certainly a factor, but for the first time in their series, the Canadiens assembled a line capable of combatting the Bruins' top trio. Moved to Tomas Plekanec's left wing, Thomas Vanek finally looked like his dangerous self, feeding Plekanec a seeing-eye pass for the game's opening goal. As a bonus, and as ShiftChart.com illustrates, Vanek, Plekanec and Bournival battling the Bruins bigs meant that other Canadiens didn't have to.
Clearing a very low bar, Max Pacioretty had his most effective game of the series, putting a couple of decent attempts toward the Bruins' net. Splitting up the Habs' best weapons is a step in the right direction, and going into Game 4, the Canadiens need Patches to capitalize on his newfound time and space and reclaim his dynamic regular season form.
If there's a further adjustment Montreal might consider, it may be to go to their well of depth on the back-end one more time. Francis Bouillon was the weak link on the Montreal defence in Game 2, and Michel Therrien removed him from the Game 3 lineup for his trouble. Sadly, Douglas Murray picked up where Bouillon left off, as the Habs were dramatically out-chanced while he was on the ice. To top it off, he put his team in serious danger at times with careless icings, leaving his teammates stranded for exceedingly long periods in the defensive zone. If the process of elimination disqualifies Bou-Ray from the lineup this evening, and it should, Jarred Tinordi should get another chance to taste playoff hockey this evening.
With the Bruins in some peril after a Game 3 loss, Claude Julien will be shoring up his team's Game 3 downfalls to take a run at a tied series. Therrien has shown that he's willing to, at least in the playoffs, analyze his team's performance and make adjustments accordingly. The Bruins will be better tonight than they were in Game 3. If MT wants to put his team in the driver's seat of a contentious series, it's up to him to make sure that the Habs are, too.