Kukla's Korner

The Upper Canadien

Someone’s going home tomorrow

Habs. Bruins. Game seven. As it was meant to be. As it always was going to be. Two storied franchises going head to head for the 34th time. One team, big and brutish, coming off a phenomenal year, leading the league in points, 54 wins, a year removed from the Stanley Cup finals. The other a younger team, building on draft picks and development, focused on speed and skill. 

Monday night's game was a thing of beauty. A hockey game featuring grit, determination, speed, skill and artistry. No thuggery. No goonery. It was fantastic hockey. Perhaps the best game I have watched in years. Absolute entertainment, from both sides. 

But now we have something potentially better. Montreal. Boston. Game seven. Is there anything better for a hockey fan? 

This game, based on the series, should be close. It will be a battle of goaltenders at the top of their class, defencemen at the top of their trade, and forwards hell bent on outdoing one another. Will Milan Lucic break out? Will Max Pacioretty continue to awake from his hibernation? Will Tomas Vanek show everyone why he's worth $8 million a year? Will PK Subban take over the game as only he can? Is Carey Price about to take his performances this year in elimination games...and take things to another level of goaltending superiority? 

7 pm puck drop tomorrow. Habs coming off a shutout. Bruins waxing about penalty calls and expectations of a win. Montreal talking about what a great year it has been, how anything can happen, and how much they want victory. 

I'm pretty excited. More than I have been in a long time for a Canadiens game. I only hope you're able to watch, because this, ladies and gentlemen, should be a good show. 

Oh, and something tells be the Canadiens aren't ready to go home just yet.

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The PK Subban show

Is there anything this guy can't do? PK Subban is playing the most domianting hockey of his career, and along with Carey Price is carrying the Montreal Canadiens. While the Habs are now up 2-1, and they've still got a lot of work to do, the Canadiens looked good Tuesday, outpacing a Boston Bruins team that at times seemed sedentary. Aside from Subban and Price, Tomas Vanek, Tomas Plekanec and Lars Eller had a heck of a game, while a flu ridden Rene Bouque still caused the Bruins fits as he flew all over the ice.

Both teams will be regrouping in practice today, in advance of tomorrow night's pivotal game four in Montreal. No doubt the Canadiens are looking to sieze the moment and go up 3-1, after letting a potential 2-0 lead slip away. Thus far, Montreal has outplayed Boston most of the series on the backs of their speed and skill. The Bruins have started to get angry - it started to show late third on Tuesday - but the Habs have stayed composed and let their play do the talking. 

With regards to the lineup, don't expect any changes for Montreal Tuesday, but Michel Therrien looks brilliant after pulling Brandon Prust from the lineup and inserting Travis Moen. Prust is a warrior but clearly hurt, and needs some time to rest up. The swap of Douglas Muray in for Francis Bouillon also added some much needed size, and helped Montreal clear the front of the net as the game went on. Therrien is having a very good series. 

Is there a dirtier player in the NHL than Brad Marchand? He's probably the guy you'd love on your team and despise when he is elsewhere, but he is without question the sleaziest player I have seen in a long time. Every time I think he's crossed the line, he creates a new line and crosses that one too. 

Enjoy the day off. Big game on Thursday. 

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Setting the stage for game 2

Can the Habs go home with a 2-0 lead? It seems unlikely, but stranger things have happened, including in 2011, where the Habs went home in the first round...with a 2-0 lead over Boston. We won't talk about what happened afterwards. 

Game one was all Carey, all Subban. How do the Canadiens win game 2? It needs to be all Carey again, with sprinkles of Subban, Vanek and Pacioretty. They need to keep playing their game, not Boston's. If they do, and the speed comes through, they'll win.

Lineup changes? I would look to get Bournival back on that fourth line. It's an added weapon and he's responsible defensively. Moen was good, not great. I might consider swapping Moen up for Prust - Prust has not looked right - but I suspect Prust will play, as he's as gritty as they come. 

12:30 puck drop. Fans in Boston are anxious. Fans in Montreal are anxious. Fans elsewhere are asking questions such as, "what's for breakfast? Why is there a hockey game at 12:30?" 

Enjoy folks. 

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Thursday night can’t come soon enough

Well, it appears to be official. After days of online theories and twitter suggestions, the NHL appears to have (finally) announced the Canadiens-Bruins series will start Thursday night, followed by a likely afternoon tilt on Saturday. No doubt the Canadiens are salivating at the thought of playing actual hockey, as Thursday will mark ten days they have gone without a game. As such, the Habs participated in a simulated game Monday night with their black aces, in an attempt to get them back to their normal routines and ready for the rumble that will be Boston.

This series will boil down to who wants it more. The Bruins are bigger, sure - a whole six pounds on average. The Habs are faster, yes, but are you telling me Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and co can't skate? Sure, Zdeno Chara dives, almost as often as his teammate Marchand, but we all know that Brendan Gallagher has been known to take a tumble on purpose and try to goad a penalty.

At the end of the day, this will come down to who is willing to sacrifice more to get to the Eastern final. It is going to be a battle between two very good teams with a lot of skill that buy into systems and support their colleagues. That and two very good goalies. Carey Price and Tukka Rask may be the top two netminders in the NHL. You better believe they are ready to put on a show.

So mark your calendars, boys and girls, Thursday it is. The Bruins have won the past two playoff tilts between these two teams, most recently in overtime of game seven in 2011, en route to a Stanley Cup.

This time? I think it's Montreal's turn. And I'm saying Habs in six. 

Should be a doozie. 

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Habs storm ahead

It had a great pregame show, it had Ginette Reno, it had the apparently possessed Rene Borque, it had phenomenal goaltending, it had referee controversy - yes, last night's Habs-Lightning game had just about everything. What an entertaining hockey game, and what a sunny, warm, welcoming Monday morning for Canadiens fans. A 3-0 lead. Control of the series. Four contributing lines. A team buying into its system. A poised PK Subban. Carey Price, you know, the one everyone knew was in there was was waiting to see in the playoffs. A tough as nails Francis Bouillon. Brandon Prust fearlessly blocking shots late third, despite obvious discomfort. Lars Eller, finally coming into his own.

Montreal is playing its best hockey thus far this year, committed to a defensive system that pounces on mistakes and creates chances without sacrificing defensive position. The fourth win is the hardest to get, but the Canadiens will be pushing for it on Tuesday. Carey Price looked as on as he has in this whole series on Sunday night, but so did Anders Lindback. Steven Stamkos is a gamebreaker - can the Habs continue to hold him in check? (or should that be Czech? Tomas Plekanec playing out of his head defensively).

There is still a lot of work today, but a few days rest would do the Habs some good. You know they want it done in four. Every player knows they want it. Can they do it? 

Tomorrow. 7 pm. 

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Break out the Van Halen and put the beer on ice, it’s playoff time

It's the most wonderful time of the year. The tulips are sprouting, the birds are chirping...and the snow is falling? Regardless, it's playoff time, and the Montreal Canadiens are getting ready to take on Tampa Bay in the first round. Montreal looks to be a more complete team than they have in at least 6 or 7 years, if not a lot longer. Tampa Bay also look solid top to bottom, and this matchup has the makings of a good series. A quick summary as we get set for puck drop, 23 short hours from now.

Up front:

Tampa Bay has Stamkos. Arguably the most naturally gifted goal scorer in the NHL. Is he at full health? Does he have a partner to dish like Martin St. Louis did? Who cares. This guy can change a game on his own. Beyond the captain, you know the supporting cast well. Ryan Callahan. Purcell. Palat. Johnson. Tampa has more depth than you may think, and they play a strong defensive system. 

Montrea counters with what may be the hottest line in hockey over the past month, as Pacioretty-Desharnais-Vanek lead the way. Their depth is also impresive, as players such as Tomas Plekanec, Brandon Prust, and Travis Moen will be counted on to check the ever-threatening Stamkos. Scorers such as Brendan Gallagher, Brian Gionta, Daniel Briere and Lars Eller litter the second through fourth line. Montreal has the supporting cast necessary to get the job done. But they don't have Stamkos.

Edge: Tampa Bay

On the back end:

Tampa Bay has a strong defensive core, led by Victor Hedman, Matthew Carle and Eric Brewer. However, it gets thin after that, as players such as Keith Aulie, Mike Kostka, and veteran Sami Salo hold down the fort. Tampa's defence isn't exceptionally fast, but they can control the play in their own end, and make a good first pass. Without question though, this is the Hedman show.

Continue Reading »

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Habs get set for playoff push

After four days of rest, the Canadiens take the ice Wednesday night in game 80. And after writing 800 words on their season thus far, the strategy of resting players, and PK Subban's place in the Michel Therrien landscape, I accidentally deleted it. As such, I'll keep my comments brief in advance of tomorrow's game. Resting Price, Markov, etc al makes sense. Look at what happened to Ben Bishop tonight against Toronto. As for Subban, he's clearly got a special place in Therrien's heart. Is his play hurting because of it? Is his play being effected because he's hurting? We'll know the answer to the latter soon, based on his icetime over the final three games. 

With three games left, Montreal has a chance to lock up home ice advantage for the playoffs. Does it matter for a team with as strong a road record as the Habs have had this year? I would argue it does, but I also think being the visitor has its advantages. Regardless, Montreal clearly wants it, and may top 100 points for the first time since Guy Carbonneau was walking the bench.

Enjoy the final stretch. Hard not to be optimistic with the playoffs so close. With a core of Pacioretty, Price, Markov, Subban, Plekanec and Vanek, things are looking up. They've got one of the hottest lines in hockey. Daniel Briere is one of the best point-per-game players come playoff time. Brandon Prust, if he's in, will be as rested as can be. Montreal arguably has their strongest team in two decades.

As Morrisey would say, a rush and a push and the land is ours. It looks like they are Canada's only hope this year. I'm pretty excited to see how this all plays out. 

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Habs look to continue streak in Tampa

The Canadiens skate into Tampa Tuesday on a five game winning streak, looking to eke out a win against a robust Tampa team nipping at Montreal's heels. Tampa and Montreal have been fighting it out for 3rd in the East for the past few weeks, and the winner of that contest will play host in the first round, unless there is a drastic change of events in the standings. The past six matches between these two teams have been decided by one goal, including 3 this year. Both teams made significant changes at the deadline, headlined by Tomas Vanek up North, and Ryan Callahan down South.

Carey Price gets the nod, while Tomas Plekanec will slide back into the lineup after missing Saturday's game for personal reasons. One element to follow over the remaining two weeks of the NHL season is ice time, specifically that of Andrei Markov in Montreal's case. Markov has soaked up the sixth-most ice time in the league this year, with PK Subban close behind at eighth. In Markov's case, that begs the question of whether or not he might get a break heading into the playoffs. It certainly isn't going to come tonight, but if the Habs mange to get a stronger hold on that third-place standing sometime over the next week, look for Michel Therrien to give his veteran rearguard a bit of a break. However, it's a luxury the Canadiens may not find themselves with this year.

Third place is on the line, and a win secures a playoff spot for the Habs. Should be a great game. 

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Habs -Leafs tonight on CBC

The end of an era tonight, with the last regular season Habs-Leafs game ever on CBC's Hockey NIght in Canada as we know it. I don't have much to add - clearly, it is a huge game for both teams - but I will opine on one point. Based on the practice lines, Alex Galchenyuk appears to be ready to slide in as a centre between Brian Gionta and Rene Bourque. My two cents: it's about time. If Ryan Johansen can play centre in the NHL at an early age, so can Galchenyuk.

He may be the most talented player the Canadiens have, and now he'll get a chance to show us what he can do. I'm happy to see he's probably going to play with Gionta and Bourque, as these veterans should reinforce Galchenyuk and provide some grit to go with his soft hands. The Leafs aren't an overly good defensive team. Let's see what Alex Galchenyuk can do.

7 pm. CBC. Enjoy it, folks. 

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The Habs last night

Were you one of the many that stopped watching? If so, you're not alone. There were many empty seats with 3:22 remaining, when Lars Eller scored his first goal in almost 3 months, to bring the Habs to within two. The rest is history, as the Canadiens become the first team ever in NHL history to come back from a 3 goal deficit with less than 5 minutes remaining.

What spurred it on? Michel Therrien looked like he had checked out with about 10 minutes to go. Carey Price was having a lacklustre game. Brandon Prust had had enough of Milan Michalek, of being pushed around by a cocky Senators team, and he let it be known as he destroyed Michalek in a fight. But I put this win squarely on the shoulders of the Subbanator. PK Subban made rush after rush, taking the team on his back. PK was leading by example, laying hits, blocking shots, and creating chances in the Senators' zone. The tying goal was all PK, as he patiently waited, with 3 or 4 seconds to go, and found the open man in David Desharnais through traffic. 99% of NHLers would have taken the shot, but PK kept looking for an easier solution. He found it, OT followed, and Francis Bouillon potted the winner about a minute in.

Eller - no goals since January 2nd. Bouillon - his first goal of the season, after a month as a healthy scratch before this week. Talk about heroes coming out of the shadows. They came out of the pressbox. 

The Canadiens of late have been a mess. Carey Price hadn't started for them in about six weeks. I'm actually surprised there hasn't been more conversation about Price, as the Olympics theoretically could cost the Habs a playoff spot. But push all that aside. Games like last night can make a season. They make boys men. They insprie and reinforce. 

Tonight, the Habs are in Buffalo, sans their starting goalie, who stayed behind in Montreal. Not a good sign, and a clear indicator that Price is banged up, but the Habs control their own destiny. Keep winning and they likely have home ice first round. Keep struggling and they could miss the postseason. 

That said, after last night, I'm liking their chances. Suffice to say, there seems to be a little St. Patty's day magic in the Montreal air. Let's hope it continues. 

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About The Upper Canadien

The Upper Canadien is your one stop shop for all things Montreal Canadiens. Since the summer of 2010, I've been providing Habs related news, notes, and most importantly, opinions. As a blogger, I don't believe it's my job to report the news, it's my privilege to comment on it. You may disagree with what I suggest. In fact, you most likely will. But that's the great part about blogging: it spurs opinion, comment and engages all involved. I've really enjoyed all the debate and commentary from readers thus far and I encourage everyone to respond with ideas on lineups, trades, logos, sweaters, mascots, whatever. The Upper Canadien is a conversation for all hockey fanatics.

I've come to Kukla's Korner with four years of campus radio and three years of sportswriting from my time at Mount Allison University on Canada's East coast. Not only do I not have any professional journalistic training, after five years in the corporate world, I've spent much of the past two years completing an MBA. Business by day, hockey by night, I'm a Canadiens fan through and through. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I do writing.

Questions or comments? theuppercanadien@kuklaskorner.com

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