The formula is simple. Follow it to a “T” and you’ll find success. Deviate from it, even a little bit, and you’ll experience failure. Last night the Montreal Canadiens deviated from the system that earned them 2 solid wins to open the Eastern Conference Quarter Finals.
But if one thing was secured in the minds of Jacques Martin’s crew at the end of 60 minutes last night, it was this:
Games are won and lost through preparation (or a lack thereof), as much as they are won and lost by the physicality of the play during the game itself.
The opening to Game 3 of the ECQF was powerful, as Jean Beliveau came forward to present “The torch, be yours to hold it high.” And as a young lad, bearing Number 4 on his back, skated around the ice surface of the Bell Center, the atmosphere was electrifying.
Little did the fans know or realize, that the same intensity that was being demonstrated in front of them at that very hour, was far from the lack of intensity that was apparently displayed by their beloved Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge a few hours before in the morning skate.
I’m not going to delve into the lackluster performance of the Habs during the first 30 minutes of last nights game. I have no interest in talking about Spacek, and Hamrlik and their poor effort on the ice. I don’t want to dive into details about Carey Price making his one and only fatal mistake, when he handed Rich Paverley the gift that would end up being the game winning goal.
What I’m curious about is, the fact that merely moments after the final outcome, the media managed to uncover the truth about this team witnessing its own unfurling, many hours before – during the morning skate. Witnessed it – and recognized it!
“I think it started in the morning. Guys were horsing around in the pregame skate and weren’t ready to play,” described Price. “I thought we got what we deserved in the first period. After that, we came back in the second half and played like a focused hockey team and played like we should.”
Which begs to ask the question, where was the team leadership from the veterans and coaching staff of the team? Five Habs own 6 Stanley Cup rings amongst themselves. That leadership needed to shine through, and get the rest of the team focused on the task at hand.
The coaching staff should have hauled in the reigns on a slap-happy group of players that were basking more in the past two victories, than preparing for the daunting task that they were about to undertake in front of 21,273 raging fans.
What became apparent quickly on the ice, was the fierce determination the Boston Bruins felt necessary, in order to hold on to any playoff hopes they might have. There is no doubt in my mind that they stepped off the ice at TD Banknorth with confusion and doubt swimming in their heads. Most likely a large chunk of fear served on the side as well. Last night they were playing for their playoff lives, and that hunger was apparent from the drop of the puck.
Montreal, on the other hand, got lost in translation. They forgot the system. They went down by a goal, and then two. Then they began trying to take shortcuts. Looking for the long stretch pass, throwing the puck around blindly. Everything that “the system” dictates they should not do – they did. They started to play desperation hockey.
Montreal is a team that requires the ability to control it’s own destiny. The most efficient way they can do that, is by being mentally prepared; and in turn, playing the system that controls the puck, the play, and then ultimately – the score.
“They’re a good hockey team and if we don’t play like we did in Boston, we’re not going to win hockey games. ” ~ Carey Price
After the near comeback disintegrated into a failed attempt, the floodgates soon opened and the truth came out. The Habs lack of focus had begun much earlier than the moment the puck dropped. Post game interviews began revealing the ill preparation of the club, was probably the beginning of the best lesson this team could have learned so early on in this post season.
Pregame preparation is as important to the game, as the game itself.
I believe that veteran blue-liner Hal Gill said it best …
“Boston is a good team and if we don’t play a desperate game with focus and urgency then we’re going to get beat. We have to recognize what we do well and stick to it. That’s not making plays in the middle; it’s grinding it out and supporting each other. If it means taking three more steps to get into position, then that’s what you do. You don’t take the shortcut and we did that too often.”
Has the team learned? I believe so. Will they turn this ship around? Without doubt! They have realized with no small cost, what the deficiency was going into last nights game, and just how strongly that deficiency cost them.
I’ve always said that the Habs would take this series, and I always said they would do it in six. So they’re right on schedule.
Once again, I leave it to the words of one of our veteran players, who I believe sums it up best.
“The next one is going to be a hard-fought win. We have to go out and work our butts off to get that win. We’ll get some rest now and regroup, look at tape and we’ll talk to each other about what we do well. Then we’ll go out and do it well on Thursday.” ~ Hal Gill
Time to start breathing again!