Well, this all sounds vaguely familiar.
The Montreal Canadiens, who open their best-of-seven game semifinal series against the Bruins beginning Thursday night – then whenever the hell Gary Bettman lets you know, damn it – have an issue heading into the showdown with their power play. The Habs ended the regular season on an 0-for-23 stretch on the man-advantage, and were only two-for-13 in their four-game quarterfinal sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
One of those two was Max “Hall Pass” Pacioretty’s series-clinching goal in Game 4, which came with 43 seconds remaining. As far as clutch performances are concerned in a deciding game, it’s not exactly “Bergeron! Bergeron!” but for a team in the throes of a power struggle, it’ll do.
“We worked on the power play (Monday) and we’ll work on it more,” coach Michel Therrien told the Montreal Gazette. “We want to create momentum on the power play and we’re working with that in mind.”
Of course, it was only three years ago that the Bruins took their pathetic power play all the way to raising the Stanley Cup. Boston scored on only 10 of its 88 postseason power plays that year, an 11.4 percentage success rate that prompts more than a few “How they hell did they do it?” comments the further we traverse from that remarkable run. Of those 10, exactly zero (0-for-21) came during the Bruins’ first-round matchup against the Canadiens.
This time around, Boston is the team that comes into the series with remarkable power play statistics, both with and without the extra man. The Bruins’ 37.5 percent success rate leads all playoff teams through the first round, while only Chicago (93.1) and Minnesota (headed to a Game 7 Wednesday night vs. Colorado, 90.9) can boast a better kill rate than Boston’s 90 percent. The Habs’ 71.4 penalty kill percentage (Montreal allowed two goals on only seven Lightning chances) is near the bottom of the pack, just ahead of the New York Rangers (headed to a Game 7 Wednesday night against Philadelphia, 68.4) and the eliminated Detroit Red Wings (62.5).
Human Sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria.
“Obviously, the power play has helped us a lot through this series,” coach Claude Julien said. “Certainly makes it a lot easier. We’ve won before without having a successful power play, but when you’ve got that [in the] arsenal it certainly makes it a lot easier.”
Gone are the days of Peter Chiarelli’s disastrous and desperate quick-fixes in the likes of Tomas Kaberle, replaced by Torey Krug, whose emergence since last year’s playoff series against the Rangers has been the gift that keeps on keeping on. Krug’s presence on the power play has slowly turned the Bruins’ ultimate weakness into one of its most notable strengths. You only have to go as far back as Game 2 against the Red Wings to remember the last time that Zdeno Chara’s towering presence in front of the net can have a different effect when there are capable hands at the point.
“Teams have always attacked us really hard at the top in the past,” Bruins assistant coach Geoff Ward told the Globe earlier this season. “Because those guys move the puck well back there, they can move it along the line. They can move the puck quickly into the guy in the middle to beat the pressure. Now teams have to stop and back off. That’s allowed us the luxury of having more sets, allowing us to get the puck into the hands of other guys who shoot it. It’s been a big help on our back end on the power play, for sure.”
In somewhat of the same vein, the Canadiens hope that their own issues can find a quick fix when Thomas Vanek starts doing what he was presumably brought to Montreal to do. Vanek (a Bruins-killer, don’t ya know?) had only two power play goals since coming over from the Islanders at the trade deadline, both in one game against the Avalanche on March 24. In his career, Vanek has 14 power play goals in 55 games against Boston, the most against any team in the NHL.
Overall, Vanek has a mere 62 points vs. Boston, 14 more than the 48 he has against the Maple Leafs – second on the list – in his career.
“Much is said about their size and their speed and, allegedly, that’s what gives us problems,” Chiarelli said. “They’ve got some speedy forwards, they made themselves better with Vanek. That line has had some success with Max Pacioretty and [David] Desharnais.”
As for Montreal’s penalty kill, which didn’t exactly prove itself in the playoffs, the return of Travis Moen, who missed the last nine games and the first round with a concussion, should help bolster what was the fourth-ranked power play defensive unit in the NHL during the regular season with an 85.1 percent success rate.
Perhaps you remember Moen’s last appearance?
“To prepare Travis, I’ve got to have him practice with players who might have a chance to play,” Therrien told the Gazette. “But he’s a guy with experience. He’s a big body and he kills penalties.”
That’s good news for the Habs. Good news for the Bruins? Danielle Paille skated with the team on Tuesday and looks to be ready to return against the Canadiens from his own presumed concussion. And just like that, the playoffs’ best penalty kill just got better.
The power play didn’t matter the last time the Bruins faced off against Montreal in the postseason. Somehow.
This time, maybe it’ll just make life easier. Maybe. These are the Canadiens, after all.