Montreal use a little speed to get past Boston in NHL play-offs

The Canadiens proved able to sustain their read-and-react style, simply because they were the more disciplined team and now they need to keep up with the NY Rangers in the Eastern Conference final, writes Rob McKenzie.
Montreal’s David Desharnais, right, gets physical with the taller Zdeno Chara of Boston. Jared Wickerham / AFP
Montreal’s David Desharnais, right, gets physical with the taller Zdeno Chara of Boston. Jared Wickerham / AFP

The Montreal Canadiens pulled off the surprise of this year’s NHL play-offs. Just when the Boston Bruins were looking like Stanley Cup favourites, along came the pesky Canadiens to knock them down to size.

Before the post-season began, I doubted that the Canadiens were built for play-off hockey.

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They were very good at blocking shots; but in the play-offs, everybody blocks shots, so that advantage stood to be negated. And as the games became faster and more physical – which always happens in the post-season – surely Montreal would have trouble sustaining the read-and-react style that led to scoring chances through quick break-out passes.

So how, then, did the Canadiens topple Boston, in a seven-game series in which Montreal was the better team and fully deserved victory?

Foremost was their speed. Take David Desharnais. He is a Smurf, listed at 170 centimetres and 77 kilograms. But he gave Boston trouble with his relentless puck pursuit in Games 6 and 7. He made the defining play of the series, in Game 6, when he leapt head-first into his team’s goal crease and batted a bouncing puck off the goal line.

The amazing thing was not just preventing the goal, it was the mental and physical quickness Desharnais displayed in dashing into position to make the play.

As for blocking shots, that is a skill and not just an action. For the series, Montreal blocked 137 shots to Boston’s 110.

The Canadiens proved able to sustain their read-and-react style, simply because they were the more disciplined team. They played with great cohesion and frustrated Boston. They raised their game.

There were other factors too: Carey Price was the better goalie, PK Subban played fearlessly, and Montreal’s skaters offset their lack of size by using sweep checks and poke checks to extend their physical range.

Their reward for success is to play the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference final. In Saturday night’s series opener in Montreal, the Canadiens seemed half-asleep and were embarrassed in a 7-2 thrashing.

If Montreal can bounce back and beat the Rangers, they will play the Chicago Blackhawks or the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup final.

The looming risk for Montreal is fatigue, in particular if the series against the Rangers goes to seven games or has lots of overtime. Speed kills – and Canadian fans hope it kills Montreal’s opponents before this exciting team blows a tire.

rmckenzie@thenational.ae

Follow our sports coverage on twitter at @SprtNationalUAE

Published: May 18, 2014 04:00 AM

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