If the Bruins’ Feb. 9 win over Montreal didn’t draw enough of a blueprint for how to beat the Canadiens, then yesterday’s Heritage Classic in Calgary completed those plans.
As long as you make life a little difficult for the Habs, you can knock them off their game and beat them. In the case of the Bruins’ victory earlier this month, Boston made Montreal uncomfortable with body contact and, in the end, a lot of fights.
At the Heritage Classic, Mother Nature had as much to do with slowing down the Habs as the Calgary Flames, who won the game 4-0.
It was played at three-quarter speed, with both teams so intent on not making an error mishandling the puck that not much threatened to crack the highlight reels during the three hours or so it took the Flames to record a workmanlike 4-0 victory over the visiting Montreal Canadiens.
You could tell right from that start that while the Flames stepped on the shoddy ice intent on continuing their recent string of strong play with two huge points on the line, Montreal was worrying about the cold, the ice, the lighting … pretty much everything else.
Obviously, the conditions were going to slow down a Montreal team that’s heavily reliant on its speed anyway. A gutsy club would’ve buckled down and found a way to grind its way through to the end, win or lose. But it was pretty apparent after the first half of the first period that Montreal was looking more forward to the final horn than the battle itself.
Dave Stubbs chronicled the Canadiens’ plight for the Montreal Gazette. Here’s what defenseman James Wisniewski told him:
“They had the right game plan. The ice wasn’t up to par and they got the puck behind us, created their own breaks and capitalized on them. … I don’t think I’ve ever been so frustrated in my life playing hockey. With the type of team we have, with our puck-moving skill… without the quality of ice we need to make plays, we didn’t have another game plan.”
Sure, Montreal is built around some solid character guys in captain Brian Gionta, Mike Cammalleri and Hal Gill. But if last night’s loss tells you anything, it’s that it doesn’t take much adversity to turn the Habs into a high school team — be it frigid temperatures, or less-than-perfect skating conditions. Not every game is going to be a donnybrook, nor will there be another opportunity to chill the bones of the Habs players to the extreme, so going forward the Bruins and other foes will have to find other ways to knock the Canadiens off their course. It might not be that difficult to do.