Oh look, a pumpkin

The Philadelphia Flyers have just defeated my Montreal Canadiens 4-2, thus eliminating them from the playoffs and moving on to play Chicago for the Stanley Cup. It was an improbable run by the Habs, barely squeaking into the playoffs and yet knocking off the #1 regular season team (Washington) in the first round, and last year’s Cup champion (Pittsburgh) in the second. Philly manhandled them, though, shutting them out three times.

It might have been that Montreal was just exhausted after slogging their way through two consecutive 7-game series. Jaroslav Halak stopped over 500 shots in the playoffs. Their best defenseman, and maybe best player overall — Andrei Markov — was hurt in the first game of round 2, and his absence showed in the anemic power play. Ultimately, though, the Flyers did what Washington and Pittsburgh didn’t: they adjusted. The Capitals and Penguins seemed convinced that if they just kept playing the same way they had all year, their talent would come through and win the day. That played right into the Habs’ strategy, but the Flyers had none of it. They crashed the net, unlike the Caps and Pens who just talked about doing it, and Montreal coach Jacques Martin seemed unwilling to use Ryan O’Byrne on D, the one player big and strong enough to clear the crease. The Philly defense cut off the entry pass and punished the Canadiens’ small, skilled players along the wall. Mike Leighton may have recorded the shutouts, but apart from game 2 he was little better than average. The Flyers just choked the life out of the Montreal forwards.

So now the Flyers will play the Blackhawks for the finals. I will be cheering for the latter, almost as enthusiastically as I would have cheered for Montreal had they made it to the finals. Here’s why:

  1. I have come to hate the Flyers as much as the Bruins and almost as much as the Leafs
  2. I have come to hate the Flyers’ fans even more than the Flyers
  3. I like a lot of Chicago players (especially Toews) and the way they play the game
  4. Chicago has always been Nellie’s team, but she cheers for Montreal for my sake. It’s only fair I return the favour
  5. If Chicago wins, the Maple Leafs will be the team who has gone the longest without winning the Stanley Cup. My excitement at this prospect should not be underestimated

So…I’ll take a few days to recover from this heartbreak, and then…go Hawks go.

Look at what Don Cherry hath wrought

Two nights ago I saw highlights of a disgusting play by Carolina forward Scott Walker. He punched Bruins defenceman Aaron Ward in the face, even though Ward hadn’t dropped his gloves and still had his hands by his sides. Here’s the video:

Almost as disgusting, though, was the NHL’s punishment. Walker wasn’t suspended, even for a game. He wasn’t even given the automatic 1-game suspension for taking an instigator penalty in the final five minutes of a game. That was rescinded. He was fined a token $2,500. The league’s explanation was that Ward could have defended himself but didn’t, and he could see the punch coming. Psychologists refer to this as blaming the victim.

Far be it from me to defend the Bruins — I hate them with a fiery passion, and want badly for Carolina to knock them out of the playoffs — but one thing they did masterfully well on their way to eliminating the Canadiens was not take penalties. The same discipline that should be an admirable trait for a team may have cost Aaron Ward his orbital bone.

I’ll never stop loving hockey, but with every incident like this my hatred for hockey’s so-called “fighting culture” grows. Nobody could look at this incident impartially and think it was anything but patently absurd.

So it goes.

As I write this Boston is running away with game four against Montreal, and is about to sweep the Canadiens out of the playoffs. This isn’t unexpected — the Bruins finished first in the east, Montreal eighth — but it’s certainly disappointing.

Had Montreal been healthy and played well they might’ve stood a chance against Boston, but they weren’t and they didn’t. Tonight Montreal was missing Andrei Markov — their best defenseman, leading scorer and best player overall — and three more top-seven defensemen: Mathieu Schneider, Francis Buillon and Patrice Brisebois. They were also missing top-line winger Alex Tanguay and #2 center Robert Lang, who’s been out for months. With a roster full of spare-part defensemen and discombobulated lines, they stood no chance. Boston rolled four lines at Montreal who just couldn’t keep up, couldn’t get to loose pucks, couldn’t get the puck out of their own end. Part of this was due to Montreal not consisting of, or playing like, a playoff-worthy lineup of late, but some of it was also due to the kind of systemic breakdown that a good team like Boston can grind you into.

And so Montreal will slip into the postseason with a whimper, and tomorrow the Montreal dailies and sports blogs will cry that this is not how the famed centennial season was supposed to go. A season which started with so much promise and faded so badly in the second half, which hosted an amazing all-star game but saw the coach fired shortly after, which ended with a team virtually unrecognizable from the potent weapon that began the season. I remember watching an exhibition game against Detroit when the Canadiens and Wings looked like sure locks to meet in the Stanley Cup final. How things change.

Let’s go Canucks.

Crushed

The Habs folded tonight, losing 4 games to 1 to Philadelphia, the 6th-ranked team. Philadelphia’s 18 skaters were no really better than Montreal’s 18 skaters (except for R.J. Umberger…that guy went all John Druce in this series) but Martin Biron was excellent and Carey Price was awful. Hard to lay too much blame at his feet; he’s 20 years old and was in his first playoffs, and he’s played an enormous amount of hockey in the last year, but in the end he let in three soft goals tonight and that was the difference.

It’s a weird feeling I have right now, something I haven’t felt since the early-90s…missed opportunity. For the last 15 years the Canadiens have only made the playoffs half the time, and when they do they usually  just sneak in to the 7th or 8th spopt, so it’s a pleasant surprise if/when they win a round. This year, though, they finished first in the conference and drew just about the best possible opponents in both rounds…unfortunately, their goaltending disappeared in the second round, and the offense that ranked first in the regular season couldn’t find any consistency.

Big picture…the Canadiens were the youngest team to the make the playoffs, and they should only get better. I think a lot of young teams with big potential go through a rough ride in their first real playoff run; the question will be whether they can take the next big step and learn how to perform in the crunch. I guess I’ll have to wait eleven months to find out.

[tags]montreal canadiens, nhl playoffs[/tags]

4 down, 12 to go

The Canadiens took game 7 tonight, pounding the Bruins 5-0 to salvage the series win. No one expected the series to last more than five games, but Boston turned the series into an ugly scrap long enough to win three games. Tonight, though, Montreal’s defense and goaltending were stellar, and their skill just took over in the second and third periods.

Not sure yet who Montreal will play in the next round…I guess it’ll be either New York or Philadelphia. I have to say, I’d rather see them face Philadelphia; for that to happen Philly would have to beat Washington, but I like Washington and hate Philadelphia, so I’m torn. Strategically, I’ll be cheering for the Flyers tomorrow, but deep down I’ll probably be hoping the Caps win.

[tags]montreal canadiens, boston bruins, nhl playoffs[/tags]

"I put two in his heart, one in his computer."

We watched Planet Terror, the first part of the Quentin Tarantino / Robert Rodriguez Grindhouse double feature. It was ok. Ridiculous, cartoonish, over-the-top violence and gore, but at least a discernible plot to go with all the silliness.

From what I’ve heard, though, Planet Terror is the better of the two, so I shudder to think how bad Death Proof must be. I don’t think I’ll bother with it. I’m so behind on movie-watching that I might have to impose a “nothing below 50% on Rotten Tomatoes” rule on the PVR.

.:.

The Canadiens won last night’s game in overtime to take a 2-0 series lead into Boston. Tonight’s game was a must-win for Boston, and they did. I figured it was 50-50 going into tonight; Montreal’s the better team, but Boston was playing for their lives.

Next up: game 4 on Tuesday.

[tags]grindhouse, planet terror, death proof, quentin tarantino, robert rodriguez, montreal canadiens, boston bruins, nhl playoffs[/tags]

Get your finger off the comm button

Big sports night tonight: the Habs close out the season against the Leafs. The Raptors try to reverse their recent slide. Toronto FC is hoping to score a goal. And the Final Four semifinals are played, giving me at least an indication of whether I’ll have a 50-50 shot at some pool money come Monday evening.

The NHL sprint into the playoffs is high drama; Washington’s playing just to get in (and I hope they do) while Montreal’s playing for top spot in the conference. Depending on how they do tonight and how Pittsburgh does tomorrow, Montreal will end up against either Philadelphia or Ottawa in the first round; obviously I’d prefer Philly; though the Canadians have throttled the Sens in their last two matchups, Ottawa seems like a more dangerous opponent.

Not that I’ll be able to pay a lot of attention tonight. I have a marketing assignment to write.

[UPDATE: the Habs beat the Leafs, finish first in the east and will play the Bruins in the first round, which is good, since Montreal was 8-0 against them this year. The Washington Capitals won and they’re in…in fact, they’re 3rd in the conference. Stupid southeast division. The Raptors continue to suck it hard. Ditto Toronto FC. Kansas won but UCLA lost, meaning I’m out of the money, but Nellie still has a shot at 2nd if Kansas wins.]

.:.

Battlestar Galactica started off pretty strong in last night’s season kickoff (I think Nellie was right when she said they blew their special effects budget in the first ten minutes) but drifted a little. I’m so very tired of Baltar.

[tags]nhl playoffs, montreal canadiens, toronto raptors, toronto fc, battlestar galactica[/tags]

I Will Not Sing A Hateful Song

Spring has a downside, one that sometimes makes me want to vom. Smokers, on the whole, are disgusting assholes.

.:.

Dinner last night at Tutti Matti was pretty good. I had a caprese salad* and the grilled swordfish and a dessert called the Gino, a semifreddo covered in chocolate sauce. Damn.

Nice atmosphere, good service, and we all enjoyed our meals. Fieramosca is the undoubted comfort zone for us in terms of Italian food, but Tutti Matti may now be a good alternative, a more “downtown” option if needed.

* It’s hard to believe, sometimes, how much my tastes have changed over the past few years. Not long ago the idea of eating a giant pile of buffalo mozzarella and tomato covered in olive oil would have turned my stomach.

.:.

Last night Montreal beat Boston for the eighth straight time this season, and eleventh straight overall going back into last season. They won in the shootout, which was the best possible scenario: Montreal stays where they are (tops in the east!) and Boston earns a point to stay ahead of the chasing teams like Toronto. There’re two reasons why this is good for the Habs; if Boston holds on to the 8th (or even 7th) spot, there’s a good chance Montreal will play them in the first round and…well, eight in a row. The Canadiens have owned the Bruins this year.

The other reason why a Boston point last night was beneficial: it makes it harder for the Leafs fans to hold on to their mass delusion of making the playoffs. With eight games left they’re four points out of the final playoff spot, and they’d have to leapfrog four teams to get there, but the delusion lives on. Rather than shutting down their veterans, letting their young players get some much-needed development and securing a spot in the lottery, they’re playing themselves into a lower draft pick.

But hey, if they want to keep it up, that’s cool. I kind of hope they win both games against the Bruins (the team they’re chasing) this week and get their hopes up even higher, so that when Montreal plays them next Saturday, I can watch live as the Canadiens crush their playoff dreams once and for all.

Wait a second…goddammit, I won’t be able to watch that live after all. Stupid climate change…must you ruin everything?

.:.

My buddy Joe sent me the new Constantines album yesterday. I’m only a few songs in but I already love it.  “Million Star Hotel” in particular is brilliant. The last two ‘tines albums were amazing and under-appreciated; if you like the rock and roll, do yourself a favour and check them out.

[tags]smokers, tutti matti, fieramosca, montreal canadiens, boston bruins, toronto maple leafs, nhl playoffs, earth hour, constantines[/tags]