Monday, May 24, 2010

Look Who Has Found the 8-Ball Again

How familiar is this graphic to you in these playoffs? I know we have seen it here and here already, so what's one more time, right?  Yes, the Canadiens find themselves in a very familiar situation on Monday night, being behind the 8-Ball going into a crucial game.

Game Five goes tonight in Philadelphia, where the Flyers have dominated Games One and Two in this series, so you would have to think that the Canadiens are in much tougher shape than they were being behind the 8-Ball against the Capitals and Penguins, because the Canadiens actually managed to play well away from home in those series.

In all fairness, playing behind the 8-Ball has now been turned into an art form in these playoffs, with the Habs coming back from 3-1 and 3-2 deficits already and the Philadelphia Flyers, their counterpart in this series, came back from a 3-0 series deficit to play in this series, so you couldn't really count either of these teams out of it in this situation, right?

For the Habs, in order to make it out of this game and force a Game Six, it will have to be all about their speed.  If Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, Andrei Kostitsyn and company can use their wheels around the bigger Flyers defense, they can create a lot more opportunities, much like what we saw in Game Three and the early parts of Game Four.  If the Habs can use their speed to open up space from the defensemen, it should be a much easier proposition to get harder and more accurate shots on Michael Leighton.  Also, they really have to get back to their good defense/transition game, which has given them so much success in these playoffs.  Sure, it takes a lot of shots against for it to really work, but it really works!  Their team speed in their own zone is such a huge asset, especially when it comes to taking away space at the points, blocking shots and knocking down passes.  Let Jaroslav Halak do a lot of the work, that's what he's there for.

The Flyers game plan should be fairly straight-forward today as well.  There is no such thing as excess when it comes to the physical game against the Habs.  Force their speedy players to the outside boards and hit them, then when the play is in the offensive zone, get the shovels out in front of the net and get some dirty, greasy goals past Halak.  The Flyers have plenty of skill players, but the Canadiens have done well in these playoffs to contain those skilled guys, where the grinders and plumbers are the players that have the most success.  I'm surprised Scott Hartnell hasn't been more of a clutch player in this series, as he only has 2 points in this series.  Thanks to the goaltending injury situation, Claude Giroux is the best player for the Flyers in the series among pool players, having 6 points in the first four games of the series.

TeamScott G.Neil B.Myles D.Kalenab G.Leo M.Stuart G.Derek B.Russ D.
Scott Hartnellxx
Claude Girouxxxxx
Kimmo Timonenxxx
James Van Riemsdykx
Chris Prongerxx
Daniel Brierex
Braydon Coburnx
Marc-Andre Bergeronx
Roman Hamrlikx

Yes, I was guilty of not updating how it went down in the pool in the Sharks Swept post, but as you can see from the table above, there wasn't a whole lot of change to be had.  Scott still holds a 2-point lead, thanks to an even breakdown of points in Game Four of the Sharks/Blackhawks series, so now Scott can open up a bit more of a lead, in Game Five tonight, without much worry of a comeback from the other series.  Just behind Neil B. in 3rd is Myles D., who managed to pick up a point on the lead and he'll have a battle of defensemen with Scott, which is improbable to be a huge factor, but certainly not impossible.

The elimination of the Canadiens would all but seal Neil B.'s fate of dropping down, as he'll only have three players in the Finals, compared to most others having five or six... four in Kalenab's case.  I'm beginning to think that this might be a 3-horse race by the time the Finals roll around.

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