MONTREAL - It's time to adjust, in a hurry, because the flat tire the Bruins hitched to their postseason bandwagon last night isn't taking them anywhere but straight to the ditch.
There are beatings, and then there are total, all-out William Bendix what-a-revoltin'-development-this-is BEATINGS, such as the one the Bruins suffered inside Bell Centre. They came out tentatively, summarily had a pair of Kostitsyn goals (No. 1 Sergei, No. 2 Andrei) jammed into their net, then spent most of the remaining 57-plus minutes chasing the Canadiens without ever coming close to catching them.
Not good enough, not nearly good enough, on any level. The Bruins couldn't playmake with the Habs, couldn't hit with them, pass or skate with them, couldn't shoot or even think with them. The final score, 4-1, was way too kind, in that it did not fairly depict a night in which the No. 8 seed Bruins got ragdolled around the rink by their longtime nemesis.
"If you make as many mistakes as we did," said veteran Bruins winger P.J. Axelsson, "it doesn't matter what kind of game plan you have."
The Bruins' game plan, if they are to counteract a team that looks capable of waltzing into the Cup finals, will have to be to bring up their emotions, increase their level of physical play, and hope (beyond hope?) that they can squeeze a few scoring chances out of the bargain. If so, they also have to hope to beat rookie goaltender Carey Price.
Now, is Price a good goalie? Seems so, according to his pedigree and résumé. The news clips say it, too, but his 60-minute exercise against the Bruins was more a test in not dozing off than it was in stopping the puck. The Bruins mustered only 18 shots, and other than the one Shane Hnidy ticked by him, no more than two or three of the remaining 17 were anything more than a beer league goalie would have to stop.
"We knew they'd come out hard," said defenseman Mark Stuart, one of a handful of Bruins who finished the evening minus-2. "They did a good job coming out with the physicality of their checks."
The start was just plain ugly, all too reminiscent of Boston's 0-7-0-1 showing against Les Glorieux during the regular season. The Bruins were flatfooted and nervous from the start, looking as if they were all trying to break in brand-new skates and find the feel of new sticks on the opening day of training camp.
It had the look of the first day of school, the Bruins as students, the Canadiens as teachers.
"I don't think we played well," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "That's the bottom line. Their physicality and everything else was a testament to how badly they want to win."
If only it were a case of will, however. Truth is, the Habs, now 9-0 against the Bruins this season (almost impossible in a 30-team league), are plain and simple the luxury liner to the Black-and-Gold S.S. Minnow. If one were to mask some of the European names on the backs of those sweaters, and simply focus on the Canadiens' speed and playmaking, they looked frighteningly like their Flying Frenchmen forebears.
For a team in the East to beat the Habs, it will have to come close to matching their speed, and that really boils down to only the Capitals. Maybe the Penguins, with the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in full health and flight, would have a chance. But it's also more than simply speed.
"I don't know if it's speed," said Tim Thomas, the Bruins goalie who was forced to face the fire, without much of a heat shield in front of him. "I don't know if it's so much that they are fast on their feet, or if it's the speed of the plays they make - and that makes them look even faster."
The Canadiens were bold, strong, and confident from the drop of the puck, not the slightest hint of hesitation in their game. They were particularly strong along the boards, where they repeatedly hammered the Bruins, the biggest of the early hits coming at 4:40 of the first when Steve Begin and Tom Kostopoulos lined up captain Zdeno Chara behind Thomas's net and ran over him like a matched set of stripped-down cement mixers.
Big Z righted himself immediately after the Begin-Kostopoulos pasting and made his way to the bench, not appearing to be fazed. Chara finished with 24:48, a slight dip in his ice time, and didn't look confident. One change Julien might have to consider will be matching him back with Aaron Ward because Dennis Wideman was prone again to high-risk mistakes.
By the end of two periods, about all the Black and Gold could hope was that the Canadiens would allow their alumni team to steer in the win for the final 20 minutes. The Habs were faster, meaner, edgier, hungrier, and sharper in every element of the game. That about covers it.
Now what? Julien likely will bring Andrew Alberts back into the mix. He said he felt Alberts looked a little rusty in his three games last week - his first action in months - and that it wouldn't have been fair to put the big ex-Boston College Eagle in there. However, not to put him in there could prove too unfair to Thomas, who needs an alert, mobile, and physical defense in front of him to prevent another night, two, or three of revoltin' developments.
"It's not only that we won," said Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau. "But we also did a lot of good things."
The list included the 32-18 shot edge, as well as a 37-25 lead in hits. About all Les Glorieux couldn't do was score on the power play (0 for 5), a surprise for a club that led the league this season on the man-advantage.
"But," said Carbonneau, "we will get our chances."
The fight has just begun. Or has it?
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.