Barring a miracle or the Forum Ghosts finding their way home, the series between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs is over.
Overall, the Canadiens haven’t been able to match the Game 1 plan, or sadly, output. You’re not going to win hockey games when you score 1 or fewer goals and you can’t ask your all-star goalie to do any more than what he’s done so far, which was give you a chance to win. Carey Price made this HABS team look far better than they are, if you can imagine that, after such a dismal offensive showing. The last three respective playoff seasons, Price has posted a 1.86, 1.78, and before Game 4 of this series, 1.97 GAA (Goals Against Average). It’s a shame to waste those performances, but they did.
At the start of the series, coach Ducharme seemed convinced to have a plan by going with a veteran line-up and that seemed to quickly unravel either under fan-pressure or possibly because the interim-coach label weighed on him, influencing his line-up choices. Whatever the reason, the adjustments haven’t been enough to beat a beatable Leafs team so far, who seemed vulnerable after losing their captain John Tavares. The Leafs did three things really well to beat the HABS. First, they gained the offensive zone and cycled the puck forcing mistakes that often resulted in goals while the HABS looked around for reasons. When the play stopped, the Leafs got the puck back quick with high effectiveness in the face-off circle. Lastly, the skilled players weathered the Canadiens hits and well, played a skilled game. Sure, you can point to Jack Campbell and not to take anything away from his effort, but he didn’t face significant amounts of quality shots. I guess you might even have a case on some questionable calls against the Canadiens, but they also had their share of powerplay opportunities that produced zero goals.
The Canadiens General Manager's (Marc Bergevin) plan to build a shortened-season, playoff team with veteran support has not yet materialized in wins. Outside of Carey Price, there have been a few bright spots on this team and they’re in the form of players like Suzuki, Kotkaniemi, Caufield, Romanov, and Evans. The addition of Staal, Perry, Merrill, and others were interesting depth moves if the HABS had developed their younger players and if the mid-card players like Anderson, Armia, Toffoli, Gallagher, and Tatar were producing. It’s been 9 years since Bergevin became the HABS GM and he’s burned through three head coaches and the 5-year plan has doubled without any championships. You have to wonder if Bergevin is on a short-rope, or if he’ll be given a third 5-year term. However the GM situation plays out, this current roster won’t win next year, so some decisions have to be made on making one last run with tweaks or selling off assets and going with a youth movement.
I said at the start of this series in my History Always Matters blog that it would be a Leafs series win in 5 if their skilled players took over or the HABS in 7 if they could execute containing that skill with hard, consistent hits, and more importantly, passion. The Leafs skill has been dominating. For the Canadiens, The Torch may have been passed from failing hands, but for now, unfortunately, to failing hands.
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