Four. That’s the most important number to keep in mind. Montreal now needs four wins in a row to take this series. Coming back from 0-3 has only happened four times in the history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Only one of those times was it the Stanley Cup Final. It may be a bad sign that it was the Toronto Maple Leafs who did it in 1942.
Last night, Montreal looked a lot more like the Claude Julien teams of old. They dominated the shot attempts but had a lot of trouble getting high-danger chances.
Throughout these playoffs we’ve seen this team slowly transform into an elite counter-punch team. They don’t get a ton of opportunities, but when they do, they are grade A.
In these playoffs, that’s led to their Corsi going in the tank but the expected goals and scoring opportunities being much higher. Last night, however, they controlled 55% of the shot attempts but only 40% of the expected goals.
My theory is that Tampa Bay developed the blueprint to play a counter-punch team when they faced the New York Islanders. Last night they seemed to have more patience than Montreal, which forced the Habs to push the play. In turn, Tampa Bay took advantage of Montreal’s mistakes.
Why would Floyd Mayweather ever throw the first punch? He knows the other boxer has to punch eventually. That’s the benefit of being the heavy favourite. The party expected to win has nothing to prove. That gives them the luxury of dictating the play either through action or inaction.
Montreal isn’t a team built for dictating the play. Just look at the defence. It seems their sole responsibility is to break up rushes and then give the puck to the forwards for the zone exit. They’re much weaker at defending a cycle or dictating the game themselves.
Montreal needing to dictate the play last night is the only reason I can think of why Eric Gustafson was forced to play 16 minutes. Other than Jeff Petry, he seems to be the only defenceman wired to take control of exiting the defensive zone himself. However, if last night is any indication, he’s not particularly adept at it.
So now, friends, I would like to know if you’re an optimist or a pessimist. Do you think the failure of the first three games is fatal, or do you relish the opportunity to do something only one other team in history has done?