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Hockey Notes

A couple of bad actors bring Canadiens down

By Kevin Paul Dupont
May 1, 2011

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Four days after the Canadiens packed their bags at the Garden, some troubling thoughts linger about Les Glorieux’ inglorious behavior in Game 7.

The first regards defenseman P.K. Subban, who is already a special player at age 21. Elite skills. Tremendous wheels. A shot manufactured by Raytheon. The slapper he unloaded for the tying goal (3-3) off a Tomas Plekanec feed had that lightning-and-thunder quality to it, a page torn from the book of hockey mythology. Had the setting been the Bell Centre and not Causeway Street, I suspect the roof would have caved in and the game replayed elsewhere.

With that kind of talent, there is no need for Subban to include method acting in his bountiful tool kit. Make that shameless, disgraceful method acting.

Subban did more than his share of fakery throughout the seven games, but the worst of it came in Game 7 with just under three minutes remaining in the first period.

Tangled up with Boston’s Greg Campbell on the rear wall in Montreal’s end, Subban performed a histrionic flop to the ice as both players moved off the fence. No penalty whistled.

We won’t tie up column inches here over the failure of the refs to call unsportsmanlike conduct/diving throughout the series. Pointless. Bad refereeing is like bad ice. Shut up, deal, find the next opportunity, and hope the guys in stripes get it right.

What made it worse, and pushed Subban’s antics to the level of travesty and disrespect for the game, came moments later. The Garden’s in-house camera caught Subban, seated among his pals on the bench, watching the replay on the arena’s big board.

He was loving the show, so much so that he flashed a huge grin, as if to say . . . well, who cares what he was thinking? The smile alone conveyed that he enjoyed his amateurish prank and was delighted to get off scot-free.

Hmm. Was it coincidence that his teammate, Andrei Kostitsyn, was whistled for high sticking only 41 seconds later? Let’s hope not. Let’s hope it was the officiating crew delivering a reminder that the NHL is supposed to be the stage where the world’s most talented pros perform.

WWE has its place on the sports menu, and if Subban wants to take his talents there, the bet here is that he’ll be a humongous talent in that arena, too. But now would be a fine time for the rookie to choose whether he wants sport or spoof.

Such stunts bring down everyone, including Subban’s teammates, his opponents, the officiating crew, the game itself. If he thinks it’s all a yuk, then why should anyone else, especially the paying customers, think differently?

True, far worse things have happened on the ice and around it. Compared with some of the concussions and other serious injuries we’ve witnessed in recent months and years, Subban’s antics are but petty tomfoolery, which is also to say they have no place in the game.

Someone who cares enough about the august Montreal franchise, or perhaps someone in NHL headquarters, should have a sitdown with Subban and explain the collateral costs of acting like the class clown. Act like Bozo long enough, people laugh at you, not with you. Ditto for the company you keep and the company that employs you.

Later in the night, at about 10:39 of the third period, fellow Hab Roman Hamrlik, age 37 and nearly a 20-year NHL vet, also tried to play the refs for fools with his pratfall along Boston’s right wall. He collided with Boston center Chris Kelly, dropped as if pole-axed, and remained down — perhaps half-hoping that some Montreal viewer would dial 911? Again, no call.

The next few seconds really made it interesting and risible. Kelly headed down ice and promptly knocked in the go-ahead (3-2) goal at 10:44, the one that Subban’s sizzler would negate with 1:57 remaining in regulation. Hamrlik, by remaining on the ice and trying to tease out a call, left Kelly and his pals with what amounted to a power play (not that Boston’s 0-for-21 power play was of much concern).

“The way [the Montreal] power play was going, part of me says, ‘Do you blame him?’ ’’ noted Boston defenseman Andrew Ference. “I mean, if they are going to get that call . . .’’

No doubt, considering how the Habs were clicking on the man-advantage, and how they often got the refs to buy into their, shall we say, methodology, why not? Subban’s blast at 18:03 came on the power play.

But what kind of player, what kind of team, is playing that angle in a Game 7, with less than 10 minutes to go, with the score 2-2? No doubt embarrassed, the faking Hamrlik bolted upright and raced into the zone after the goal to argue the non-call with the officiating crew. He sure didn’t look too hurt. Humility, some kind of elixir.

For all the Habs hate in this town, I suspect many would agree, perhaps begrudgingly, that there has always been something special, dignified, classy about the Montreal franchise. I’ve always felt that way, admired who they are, what they’ve done. Until now.

Even in the horribly diluted, sometimes gimmicky (see: shootout) Original 30, Les Canadiens remained the game’s crown jewel, a presence, a symbol of quality and success deserving of respect.

To this day, Jean Beliveau is a regular visitor to the Bell Centre, and there remains an undeniable aura around the 79-year-old Le Gros Bill, similar to that of Joe DiMaggio when he visited Yankee Stadium in his latter years.

It’s not just Beliveau, but about all the things he did while wearing that CH crest, how often his team won the Cup, how exceptional and talented and unique the Canadiens were in their time, their sport, their society.

Now, to see Subban and Hamrlik act like buffoons, it doesn’t take away from anything Beliveau did, or what the likes of Maurice Richard, Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy, or scores of other great Habs accomplished. Sadly, though, it takes the greatest franchise in NHL history and makes it just another team, in just another city, and pulls another 29 teams and cities down with it.

There is a price to be paid for faking, a price that goes beyond L’s in the standings. If the Canadiens allow such nonsense to continue much longer, allow decades of equity and image to disappear, they will find out the true cost of those jokes that Messrs. Subban and Hamrlik tried to sell here last week.

Time for the Habs to decide, are they a class act or classless actors?

JUST WALK AWAY?
Kaberle move hasn’t worked The Tomas Kaberle experiment is now two months in gestation. Based on what we’ve seen of the veteran defenseman’s quirky fit on the Boston blue line thus far, the acquisition price (prospect Joe Colborne, first-round pick, possible second-round pick) was far too high and the ex-Maple Leaf’s impact far too low.

Question is, what to do now? Kaberle’s low-octane performance in Black-and-Gold won’t help the 33-year-old land a substantial deal upon becoming an unrestricted free agent July 1. Obviously, that could change if his play suddenly perks up here in Round 2 against Philadelphia.

Kaberle (above) averaged $4.25 million per year on his now-expired deal, and based on his performance here, he will be lucky to land half that in the open market, even with the league’s cap number to increase to around $62 million for 2011-12.

Hand up here, and high, as one of those who figured the Boston power play — clicking around 20 percent prior to Kaberle’s arrival — would improve by leaps and bounds upon his arrival. Truth is, the success rate dipped to about 10 percent, and the Bruins then established a record low in Round 1 with an 0-for-21 against the Habs. No team in NHL history ever clinched a series while failing to connect on the power play for all seven games.

As with the Kevin Stevens/Paul Coffey experiments here in the Harry Sinden/Mike O’Connell regime, Cam Neely and Peter Chiarelli just might have to own up to the mistake, let Kaberle walk, and let the franchise live with the Colborne/Round 1 consequences. It’s called owning up to mistakes, cutting losses, no matter how much they hurt.

DEAL OR NO DEAL?
It isn’t official on Tortorella The New York Post reported last Sunday, barely hours after the Capitals eliminated the Rangers in Round 1, that Blueshirts coach John Tortorella came to terms on a three-year contract extension. Headed into this weekend, the Rangers had yet to confirm. Torts, formerly of Concord and a Cup winner behind the Tampa bench (2004), is a strong cup of coffee (no argument there from Post columnist Larry Brooks, whose tete-a-tetes with Torts are must viewing on YouTube). In his two-plus seasons behind the Rangers bench, Tortorella has twice made the playoffs, wrapped around a 2010 DNQ, and has seen his club go 4-8 in a pair of first-round KOs by the Capitals. That limited success, paired with his prickly personality, makes a three-year deal sound long.

A Jumbo surprise Forever a reluctant shooter, ex-Bruin Jumbo Joe Thornton was parked in front — how about that?— and potted the winner that clinched San Jose’s first-round series vs. the Kings (with Los Angeles defenseman Willie Mitchell in front as merely a census taker). Imagine what Thornton’s career numbers would be if he routinely 1. stood at the top of the crease and 2. shot the puck. He went 2-3—5 in six games and took 11 shots. Meanwhile, much like Tomas Kaberle in the Hub, Dustin Penner proved a dud for Los Angeles upon arriving from Edmonton at the Feb. 28 deadline. The ex-Maine Black Bear went an anemic 1-1—2 with just 10 shots in the six games vs. San Jose.

Roloson comes through Ex-ULowell standout Dwayne Roloson, dealt from Long Island to Tampa late in the season, came up huge for the Bolts in Game 6 vs. the Penguins, making three lightning-quick stops with the score 2-2 early in the third, turning back Maxime Talbot (twice) and Pascal Dupuis. Only 30 seconds later, Steve Downie potted the winner and the Lightning evened the series. Two nights later, Roloson, 41, made 36 stops in the 1-0 victory that propelled the Lightning into Round 2 vs. the Capitals. Roloson’s roundabout link to Tim Thomas: The latter opted to go to the University of Vermont in 1993-94, choosing not to take Lowell’s scholarship offer because Roloson was the school’s returning senior and was positioned to play every game that season. Rather than back up, or possibly red-shirt, Thomas went to Burlington and starred for the Catamounts.

Support for women Toronto general manager Brian Burke has directed ex-Bruin Dave Poulin, the Leafs’ vice president of hockey operations, to oversee a study on women’s hockey, specifically to find ways to give the women’s game more visibility around Toronto and North America. The NHL recently hired Val Ackerman, first president of the WNBA, to help further the female cause. “We’ve got to get more people watching,’’ said Burke. Following Team USA’s Olympic gold medal win in Nagano (1998), there was much talk of a women’s pro league. But even then, key members of the US team infrastructure doubted there was an appetite among the paying public to support the sport. It’s a good game, and growth on the women’s side remains huge, but on a marketing basis, it’s the stuff of cable access TV.

Loose pucks Talk along Broadway is that the Rangers are considering a buyout of the final season of the five-year, $37.5 million pact Chris Drury signed as a free agent. If so, Drury, who will be 35 in August, will draw a total $3.34 million over the next two years and could sign anywhere as a free agent. Versatility and short money ($700,000?) could make him a valuable pickup in many cities, especially here if Mark Recchi retires . . . Flyers goalie Brian Boucher, ex-of Mount St. Charles, when informed that the Buffalo media referred to Philadelphia goalies as the Three Stooges: “I’ll be Curly!’’ Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk, well-played. Sergei Bobrovsky and Michael Leighton are left to claim Moe and Larry. The last club to start three netminders in the playoffs: 2004 Canucks, with Dan Cloutier, Johan Hedberg, and Alex Auld in Round 1 vs. Calgary. The Flames prevailed in seven games . . . Some bad X’s and O’s had Team France, headed to the World Championships, land in Krakow, Poland, instead of Kosice, Slovakia. Hate when that happens. Rather than beat it back to Paris for a do-over, the French boarded a bus for the 180-mile trek west. Rumor has Team France headed to Boston for an exhibition this summer. Checked mapquest.com, and the bus ride from Boise to Boston should take just over 40 hours. Hope they pack extra pate.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com; material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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