Subban the prevailing narrative in Habs-B's series
Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban (76) takes a shot on goal during the first period against the Boston Bruins in game one of the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Banknorth Garden on May 1, 2014 in Boston, MA, USA. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)
MONTREAL - There are many facets of this post-season Montreal Canadiens team that have been evolving into an interesting story on an NHL playoff stage cluttered with many of them, including improbable outcomes and the apparently unbearable weight of the two-goal lead.
The Canadiens have felt that weight twice in their Atlantic Division final against the Boston Bruins, rallying to win Game 1 in overtime and not recovering in a disastrous final 10 minutes in Game 2 Saturday afternoon in which they gave up three goals and the chance to take two games from the favoured Boston Bruins.
But the narrative is ultimately evolving to be about the performance of defenceman P.K. Subban and goaltender Carey Price.
Price, after winning gold for Canada at the Winter Olympics, was expected to be a game changer for the Canadiens, an imperturbable stabilizer at the centre of the Habs’ gyroscope. There are not many goaltenders who can make Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask – the favourite for the Vezina Trophy as voted by the league’s general managers – the second-best goaltender at the rink, but Price can and has so far.
They are an interesting contrast, Price and Subban.
The goaltender excels with a ruthless, quiet efficiency with a game built on technical and mechanical superiority. If there was a sound to go with it, it would be the humming of carefully calibrated gears (think about the way he tracked across the net in Game 2, leaving no angle for Bruins forward Loui Eriksson).
Subban is all about energy, creativity and improvisation, the sound a clash of cymbals makes.
One’s a whisper.
The other’s a shout.
Both are playing the best hockey of their careers right now, when it matters most.
In a lot of ways, Subban has become the dominating figure in the series, at least from the Habs’ standpoint, both on and off the ice. He has managed to reduce the negatives (mostly by limiting his high-risk plays and turnovers) and elevated some of his strengths. The Canadiens power play is 4-for-9 in the series and Subban has been in all four goals, scoring two in Game 1 – including the winner in overtime – and assisting on both of Thomas Vanek’s scores in Game 2.
He has been able to have such an impact because of his mobility and ability to walk the blue line, finding lanes to get the puck through.
That’s one of the biggest challenges facing the Bruins going into Game 3 Tuesday night is negating Subban’s influence on the power play.
“I think the biggest thing, when you look at the goals they have scored, they have come from the point and somehow we haven’t been able to get into that shooting lane,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien Sunday. “You have a guy like Vanek (Saturday) who has a great stick around the net, some great tip-ins by Vanek but there is no doubt that those shots are getting through from the back end and we just have to get better at that and we are going to keep working on fixing that. If we can do that I think it is going to help a lot.”
Off the ice, Subban earned praise and respect with the way he handled the idiot bigots who tweeted and used other social media for their particular brand of hatred after Game 1.
Heading into Game 3, Subban and the Canadiens are wary of the Bruins’ ability to go from being mired in emotional chaos to running the table like they did Saturday.
“I thought that we put ourselves in a position where we thought we could take the win, but it’s very tough to go into a building, an opponent’s building, and steal two games in the playoffs,” said Subban. “It’s not an easy thing to do and unless you play a full 60 (minutes), you’re not going to be able to do it. We didn’t play a full 60 (Saturday). Are there a lot of positives that we can take? Yeah. I thought we played better than the last game, but we played 50 minutes, we didn’t play 60. So that’s the difference,” he said.
“They are a good team, they won a Cup before, they know what it takes to win and I’m not surprised at the way they played and the way they put the last 10 minutes together, they are a good team. So we got to prepare and now we know what they are capable of doing, we got to prepare and get better.”
Subban has had a prickly relationship with Canadiens coach Michel Therrien, but is winning him over, it appears, at least for public consumption. Subban leads all Habs defencemen in ice time through the first two games, barely edging out veteran Andrei Markov (Subban has played 60 minutes and 47 seconds of the 144 minutes and 17 seconds played in this series).
“The number one reason P.K. Subban is in the NHL is because of his character,” said Therrien. “He’s a good athlete, but the way he’s capable of performing, he needs character. His focus and character are there. He’s at his best when the game is on and the importance of the game. Right now he’s a true leader for us.”
What also makes the Subban situation so interesting to watch is he can become an unrestricted free agent this summer. If he continues to build on his playoff performance and gets to July 1 without a new deal, you have to think the odds of him receiving an offer sheet from another club increase.
The Canadiens would have to match it, but, as is often the case, Subban would be in the middle of more drama.
REILLY TURNING HEADS
On a Bruins team littered with young veterans who have won a Stanley Cup, 23-year-old Reilly Smith is fitting right in.
Smith had the winner in Game 2 of the Atlantic Division final against the Montreal Canadiens Saturday and leads the Bruins with two goals this round. He was wearing the “Old Time Hockey” jacket – awarded by his teammates – after Game 2.
“You get a couple of bounces and I guess you’re wearing this jacket,” said the Toronto native, who came over to the Bruins as part of the deal that saw centre Tyler Seguin sent to Dallas.
Smith has been playing on a line with centre Patrice Bergeron and winger Brad Marchand. They were a big part of Boston’s comeback from a 3-1 deficit against the Habs Saturday and allowed them to head into Game 3 Tuesday at the Bell Centre with a split.
Smith has earned the trust of Bruins coach Claude Julien, a tall order for a young player.
“He plays like a veteran,” said Julien, “and you know he’s very calm in those kind of situations. You don’t see him make too many big mistakes because he’s a smart hockey player.
“Some guys have it. It’s a knack he’s had from the start.”
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