Adjustments had to be the buzzword for the Montreal Canadiens after game one.
They made it too easy for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Through the playoffs so far, the Canadiens have adjusted well. The best example is they lost 4-1 in game one in Vegas.
The Habs tried to pull out a similar turnaround in Tampa and played a very strong game, but couldn’t convert on chances to fall 3-1.
What has been a theme during these playoffs for Montreal is that they have gotten better each series against each team. Against Toronto, the Leafs were up three games to one and it all could have ended quickly, but Montreal got better each game, and by the decider, the Canadiens won easily.
Against Winnipeg, Montreal won four straight. Against Vegas, the Golden Knights won the first game 4-1 and dominated. By the end of the series, it was the Canadiens who won four out of five with the only Vegas game win being in overtime.
Fast forward to Tampa Bay. First game, it did not look like the Canadiens were at the same level at all against the Lightning. Second game, though, it also didn’t look like the two teams were level, but this time it was Montreal who was dominating.
Nick Suzuki, who didn’t get a shot in game one, had four shots in game two’s first period. Cole Caufield was explosive every time he was on the ice. The fourth line was rejuvenated with Joel Armia back in the line-up with Corey Perry and Eric Staal.
The defence that looked timid was suddenly forcing the play at the Tampa blue line to keep the action in the Lightning zone. Josh Anderson was throwing his weight around and making life difficult every time he was F1 on his line.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi with some of the best hockey he’s played. To see a 20 year old have no trouble at all against the best team in hockey at the centre position bodes so well for the years to come.
The breakout that didn’t seem to have a clue in game one was having no difficulty at all in game two. The shots on goal were 28-8 for the Canadiens over the Lightning late in the second. Wasn’t it supposed to be the Canadiens who didn’t belong in this series?
When one team has three times the shots than their opposition at any time, that team belongs. However, finishing is also important and the Canadiens had difficulties completing all the glorious chances in this one. It is their one Achilles heal. Never is it easy to know when this long-standing issue is going to hit, but it always hits at some point. It’s usually why the Canadiens go on losing skids.
It is not because the Canadiens’ 5-on-5 Corsi is suspect, or their goals expected percentage isn’t superior. Most of the time, Montreal dominates at this for even large segments of the last three or four seasons. Sometimes, however, they go on these runs where all of that zone pressure doesn’t lead to goals. Habs fans are extremely hopeful that this is not one of those occasions in the Stanley Cup finals.
There has been no need whatsoever to criticize the coaching staff since Cole Caufield and Jesperi Kotkaniemi got back into the lineup by game three of the first round. After that, the staff has been outstanding. They have made adjustments each series to sway the games in Montreal’s favour. Their adjustments have caused Montreal to keep getting better as the series progresses.
That’s the precursor to issue a complaint for the first time in almost two months to the staff.
Caufield had four goals in the Vegas series. He was the best forward for Montreal in the series, and his line was the best as well with Tyler Toffoli and Nick Suzuki. What possible reason could the coaching staff have to find themselves with a 4-on-3 and use Caufield for only 20 seconds of the two minutes.
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This is the best scenario for Caufield to excel in hockey. The more ice that he has, the better he will be on that ice. Remember when he scored two goals in 3-on-3 play during the regular season? This 4-on-3 power play is even a better scenario for Caufield than a 3-on-3.
A shocking oversight at this point. They could not possible be lacking in trust in this situation after what they have seen from Caufield. In fact, the 20 seconds that he did get on that power play, he saved a goal against by reading the play beautifully.
Corey Perry had the puck jump over his stick, and Caufield read the possibility of that error before it even happened. He was off and flying to get up ice to cut off the Tampa attacker just before he was going to take a high quality shot. Caufield wasn’t just not a liability, he was an asset. If a player less adept at reading the game were on the ice in that moment, it very well could have been a Tampa shorthanded goal.
The goal with one second left in the second period was extremely discouraging. Montreal played its best period of the playoffs and they left it at a deficit. Before the Tampa late second period power play, the shots were 16-2 in the frame. All Montreal had to do with six seconds left was get it deep. Philip Danault turned it over at centre, and then Ben Chiarot was far too casual at the blue line.
Before you knew it, it was in the net behind Price with a back breaker. That just can’t happen in the Stanley Cup finals. Some moments feel like they will define a series, that they will be known as ‘the’ moment. This is how that goal felt as soon as it went in the net.
To be as good as Montreal was but to trail after that goal was painful. Destiny is funny because it doesn’t really exist, but everyone believes that it does. Players believe in it, and as a result, it is powerful. When you allow a goal with less than a second left, it feels like you don’t have destiny on your side.
Now remember, destiny doesn’t really exist. God does not cheer for one team and hate the other team. Destiny does not put one puck in and not allow another one in, but if players believe in it, then it is stronger than any other force. Montreal had to fight that moment in their minds in the intermission. That was their challenge. To believe, they could and can still rise above what felt like a moment of destiny against them.
Destiny seemed to be wearing blue when Joel Edmundson made an uncharacteristic error giving the puck away directly for an open net marker with three minutes left. Edmundson has been a rock, and this was just a loss of focus. Uncharacteristic and damaging. Game over at that moment.
An extremely disappointing decision was announced by Quebec Health on Wednesday night, as they will not allow the Canadiens to have more fans at games three and game four at the Bell Centre. Attendance will remain at 3,500, instead of the 10,500 fans that Geoff Molson and the organization had asked for.
It is disappointing because of the situation in Quebec, which has not been better than this since the pandemic began in March of 2020. The province boasts of 100 000 vaccinations per day. The province has gone green in all areas. New cases have dipped to around 50, which is a phenomenal number.
In fact, if you are looking for irony, here it is. Florida is one of the worst states in North America right now with 73 cases per million in the last seven days. Quebec is one of the best in Canada and the USA with only 10 cases per million. Quebec’s situation is outstanding at the moment. The Delta variant may have its day a month from now, but right now, we are in tremendous shape.
Quebec is seven times safer than Florida, yet the Lightning played their game two in front of a full house of 18,600 fans.
You may want to be ultra-safe and that’s your business, but in my mind, why did we sacrifice for 16 months, curfew for four months — in at 8 p.m., like children — vaccinate to 82 per cent of the Quebec population aged 12 or higher, if not for this moment?
What moment are we actually waiting for to start living again, if not this one? Everyone has a QR code in their phone indicating double vaccinated and that could have easily been shown at the door to get in. That would have been a tremendously safe environment.
Do the vaccinations work or not? Why did we all do these vaccinations? To stay healthy but also to live again. Do they work? Let’s have policy then that is line with that they work. We are setting policy like we don’t believe in them.
Let’s all meet up cheek-to-cheek to the tune of 30 000 outside the Bell Centre instead. Yeah, that’s the smart thing to do.
Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.
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