The Montreal Canadiens have not been the Flying Frenchmen for decades, but they still have cornered the market in déjà vu.
After winning five elimination games in the first two rounds in 2010, the Canadiens seemed to have found the elixir again. The ingredients change slightly in this powerful potion -- the victims Tuesday were the Boston Bruins and not the flummoxed Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins of a spring ago -- and now Carey Price is doing the prestidigitation in the nets instead of Jaroslav Halak, but it is not like the Canadiens have changed the formula from Classic Coke to New Coke this spring.
The 2-1 win over the Bruins in Game 6, which has forced Game 7 on Wednesday night in the new Garden in Boston, had that comfy lived-in feel for the Canadiens. Been there. Won that. They played without panic, they cashed power-play opportunities, Mike Cammalleri continued to display his sweet spring scoring touch (16 goals in 25 games the past two playoffs with Montreal), they blocked 27 shots (14 more than Boston) and did not extend Price to Halakian extremes by allowing only 32 shots on net even if the goalie was obliged to make a save on a superb short-handed try by Bruins center David Krejci from point-blank range with a few ticks more than two minutes left to prevent the match from going into overtime.
Old times in Montreal.
Good times in Montreal. Not that it started that way. With the echo of Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis' words Monday about how the Canucks had been hosed by referees still reverberating some 2,300 miles to the east, Bell Centre fans did not take kindly to a decision by referee Kevin Pollack three minutes into the game. There surely is no bias against the six Canadian-based teams, milch cows for the NHL, but you had to admit that Pollock blowing the whistle when Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, who occasionally leaves adventuresome rebounds, required stones if not Oliver Stone. Brian Gionta tapped in a puck that had been sitting in the crease next to Thomas for at least one or one-and-a-half Mississippis (or "steamboats," if you prefer to count like a Canadian), but Pollock, stationed to the left of Thomas, had lost sight of the puck and blew the play dead. The NHL is cognizant of wanting to protect goalies from being run in the playoffs, and in this case praiseworthy caution turned into a rush to judgment that could have set the Canadiens into a downward spiral.
But the Bruins got caught with too many men six minutes later -- no, the 1979 Stan Jonathan/Don Marcotte gaffe will never be mistaken for Adam McQuaid getting struck by the puck as he clambered onto the bench, but still -- and Dennis Seidenberg slashed Cammalleri's stick three seconds later, giving Montreal a leisurely 1:57 of 5-on-3 time. With the Bruins killers respectful of P.K. Subban's shot from the left circle, the rookie defensemen dished the puck laterally to Cammalleri in the right circle, who blew a shot past Thomas.
Cammalleri, essentially standing in place, half pumped and half shook his glove in a restrained manner, as is his delightful custom after scoring.
Is there anything better than a mature goal power-play celebration?
Not that the Bruins would know about power-play goal celebrations. They were zero-for-four in the game and are now without a goal in 19 man-advantages in the series. Two of those in Game 6 were short ones, but two went the full futile two minutes, unlike the luxurious power plays that Montreal was getting.
Milan Lucic, the second-string Bruins villain behind Zdeno Chara to Montreal fans, was the primary perpetrator. Some three and a half minutes into the period, he ran Jaroslav Spacek from behind, earning a boarding major and a game misconduct. (Other than an unscheduled donation to the Canadian Red Cross and some stitches that must have been sewn in Lourdes given the alacrity of his return, the Canadiens defenseman seemed OK.) Twenty seconds after the Lucic major, the Bruins' leading defensive forward, Patrice Bergeron, took himself out of the penalty kill by shooting the puck over the glass. Chara, Dennis Seidenberg (who had tied the score 1-1 with an early four-on-four goal in the period) and Gregory Campbell were obliged to start killing a full two-minute five-on-three.
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Again, Cammalleri, a left-handed shooter stationed at the right circle, figured in the play. He skimmed a shot along the ice that begged for a rebound. Scott Gomez, just outside the crease, got a stick on the initial try, but it was Gionta who cashed the ensuing carom to reestablish the Montreal lead, one that the Canadiens protected in the third period by playing an impeccable road game at home for the first time in the series. While the inflexible glass at the Bell Centre did a number on Spacek's bloodied mug, the arena seemed to affect the Bruins' No. 1 line of Krejci, Lucic and Nathan Horton. Playing mostly against the top Montreal defense pair of Hal Gill and Subban -- Subban played a team-high 27:08 -- the Bruins top gunners totaled two goals and no assists in the three games in Montreal. Meanwhile the Rich Peverley, Michael Ryder and Chris Kelley line managed 12 points in the three Montreal matches, including a pair of assists on Seidenberg's goal.
The road team won the first four games of the series, the home team the last two. No game has been decided by more than two goals. There is no reason to expect anything different in Game 7, including a big effort from the Canadiens, who won Games 5 and 7 in Washington and Game 7 in Pittsburgh last year.
Déjà vu? We'll see if the Bruins have to pardon their French.