The Key to the Canadiens

Montreal Canadiens v New York Rangers

Every Rangers fan should have celebrated the Canadiens’ Game 7 win over the Bruins on Wednesday night because it meant the Rangers would face the Canadiens in the Eastern Conference finals and not the Bruins.

No one knows the Canadiens more than Bruins fans, who might be more concerned with the Habs than their own B’s. Because of this, and because the Rangers are playing the Bruins’ rival, I decided to email Mike Miccoli, who covers the Bruins for The Hockey Writers, and ask him how the Rangers can beat the Canadiens.

Keefe: Usually when I email you, it’s about the Bruins because the Rangers are either playing them, about to play them or have just played them. Unfortunately (but really fortunately), the Rangers and Bruins won’t play again until at least October.

I’m emailing you today because the Rangers are playing the Canadiens and I don’t know anyone who knows the Canadiens better than you. I feel like you might even know them more than you know your Bruins. But before we get into how the Rangers can win the Eastern Conference for the first time in 20 years and since we were in third grade, how are you holding up after Game 7? (If you don’t respond to this email I’m going to assume you aren’t holding up well and call 9-1-1.)

Miccoli: Ahh, the NHL playoffs. Is that still going on? I wasn’t aware since the best team in the NHL decided to stop playing so early. I figured they just called the whole thing off. Guess not.

If we’re being honest, the Montreal Canadiens rewrote the script here. I really thought everyone was destined to see a Blackhawks/Bruins Cup Final rematch. In a really twisted way, part of me thinks that can still happen but I won’t get into the logistics of how right now. I’m glad it’s over–really, I am. The hockey was smeared by postgame comments and instead of hearing about the actual game, we had to put up with “respect,” “class,” and “squirting.” It got old fast, but don’t tell the Canadiens that! Friday morning, the day before Game 1 of the Rangers-Canadiens Eastern Conference finals and Montreal is still talking about the Bruins. Here’s where I think your Rangers can really capitalize. The Canadiens are a team so obsessed with certain aspects of the game that make zero difference in the actual end-result of a series. Oh, the opposing team doesn’t like you? That’s terrible! Whatever emotion the Canadiens had for the Bruins won’t be replicated against the Rangers.

How are you feeling about the series? Have you been ignoring the Rangers dreadful record playing in the Bell Centre?

Keefe: I don’t get the Boston-Montreal media battle, which has taken on a life of its own and has become to the media more important than the actual Boston-Montreal games. It seems as though media members in both of the cities want to be the center of attention rather than the players and results of the games and it’s unlike anything I have ever seen.

I also don’t get why the Montreal media is still talking about Boston and the Bruins series. Not only did it end two days ago, but the Canadiens are playing for a chance to play for the Cup starting tomorrow and I’m still seeing new stories on reactions to the “respect” and “class” you talked about and the life and times of Milan Lucic. When will it stop? Will it ever stop? Will there still be Bruins-related stories coming from the Montreal media after the Rangers series has started?

I’m actually feeling confident in this series. Sure, the Rangers and more importantly Henrik Lundqvist have been awful for a long, long time on the road in Montreal, but there’s just something about what transpired over the last three games against the Penguins and the Rangers not having to face the Canadiens that has me overly optimistic about this series. There’s a very real chance all that confidence could be erased by Monday night and the Rangers could be starting at a 2-0 series deficit heading to MSG, but for now … Wooooooo! Let’s go Rangers!

As I eluded to in my opening email, I wanted to ask you about how to beat the Canadiens even if the Bruins couldn’t do it. I thought if the Rangers faced the Bruins, they would be facing an enhanced version of themselves and would eventually lose, but with the Canadiens’ fast-paced tempo, I think the Rangers will be successful.

Now with realignment, the Bruins and Canadiens will likely face each other in the playoffs nearly every year, which should be good for your health and well-being. But because of this I’m sure you know the weaknesses and flaws of the team that will be preventing the Bruins from winning the Cup again for the foreseeable future.

You have seen a lot of both the Rangers and Canadiens. What do the Rangers need to do that the Bruins didn’t?

Miccoli: The Bruins and Canadiens are going to play each other every year and my favorite hockey rivalry is going to become terrible for my health. You’re absolutely right. That said, Bruins should be back next year. Hopefully. Maybe. God, I don’t even know.

Here’s what they couldn’t do against Montreal: figure out Carey Price. Beat Price, and you’ll win. It’s simple enough, right? Get the puck past the goaltender, score goals, win games. Price has been playing out of his mind this postseason and that’s a big problem for a team like the Rangers who can struggle on offense. The Canadiens coaxed the Bruins into playing dumb hockey, too. Maybe they dove a bit (they did), got away with one or two calls (also did this), but it worked because the Bruins played into all of their tricks. The Rangers have to play smart hockey and not get into anything extracurricular with the Canadiens because on top of everything else, their power play has been tremendous.

To me, it’s less about matchups for the Rangers and more about finding ways to generate offense. Yes, Pacioretty and Vanek are threats, but they were sort of invisible up until Games 6 and 7 against the Bruins when Zdeno Chara and some other Boston defenseman decided to fall asleep. Lundqvist is going to bail out the Rangers a lot this series and I wouldn’t expect anything less. As long as the Rangers are able to get shots off and find bodies to put in front of Price, they’ll score goals. Well aware, of course, of how difficult that’s been for New York.

It’s odd that you’re confident here. I don’t think I’ve predicted the Bruins to win a series since 2011.

Keefe: Well, I think I am confident to a degree. I always feel like the Ranges will let me down and lose anyway, so the confidence is somewhat of an act and really doesn’t matter. I think because the Bruins have become the class of the Eastern Conference, you have obtained the lack of confidence I get with the Yankees because they are supposed to win. And when your team is supposed to win, you start to envision the ways they will let you down and not win. The Rangers have yet to reach that level, so any postseason success at this point is almost like a bonus, especially since they are playing with house money now after coming back against the Penguins.

As for the Canadiens, I feel like the Bruins series was their Eastern Conference finals the way the 2003 ALCS felt like the Yankees’ World Series and then they didn’t show up against the Marlins in the actual World Series. Like we said, the focus in Montreal is still on what already happened in the conference semis and not what to expect in the conference finals, and it almost feels like the Canadiens and their fans cared only about eliminating the Bruins and maybe they will continue to live in the past as the postseason moves on.

It seems like any non-Canadiens, Islanders, Devils or Flyers will be rooting for the Rangers in this series because everyone (with the exception of the fans of those four teams) loves Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers don’t really have any scumbags or dirty players on their team that the general public doesn’t like. I know you’re hopping on the Rangers bandwagon since you already ordered your Lundqvist jersey.

Miccoli: At the end of Game 7 in Boston, maybe a few seconds before the handshake line happened and Lucic threatened to kill a guy, a “Let’s go Rangers” chant broke out. Everyone in Boston, literally everyone, is a Rangers fan for the next couple of weeks. I know we talked about the Rangers not having any “love to boo” players on the roster unlike Chara, Marchand, and Lucic for the Bruins. I know it’s repetitive, but it’s another reason why I think that the Canadiens will have a tough time getting up for this series. They’re the better team but I don’t think the passion will be there. Their championship was beating the Bruins in Game 7 in Boston. They won.

Another thing I should mention about the Canadiens is their speed. They made the Bruins look like David Ortiz rounding third on a hot summer’s day at Fenway this series. The Rangers have a lot of skill, power, and speed up and down the lineup, where I wouldn’t say any of those three are necessarily a strength, but they’re pretty evenly distributed. The Bruins had skill and power with very little speed. The Canadiens amplified that.

I’m not sure everyone outside of the teams you mentioned are rooting for the Rangers though. In all honesty, I sincerely think that the majority of casual hockey fans that don’t see a Bruins or Penguins team in the ECF may not even watch. This ECF actually reminds me a lot of the Rangers-Devils one from a few years ago. Yeah, it’s good rivalry but would I watch if I didn’t love hockey? No. I wouldn’t.

Keefe: Well, after hearing everything you had to say, I’m sticking with my prediction f Rangers in 7 since that’s the only way the Rangers know how to win a series. That’s not a joke. Here are the Rangers’ last 11 playoff series:

Pittsburgh – Won in 7
Philadelphia – Win in 7
Boston – Lost in 5
Washington – Won in 7
New Jersey – Lost in 6
Washington – Won in 7
Ottawa – Won in 7
Washington – Lost in 5
Washington – Lost in 7
Pittsburgh – Lost in 5
New Jersey – Won in 5

The Rangers haven’t won a playoff series in less than seven games since 2007-08 when they beat the Devils in five in the first round. I’m not sure what’s worse when it comes to that or the fact that they haven’t won a playoff game when leading in a series since the first round against Washington in 2008-09 (a series in which they blew a 3-1 series lead in).

I want to watch meaningful hockey in June because the last time the Rangers played in June I had just learned how to write cursive and would spend Fridays having my third-grade teacher Mrs. Hunt read us Roald Dahl books and hand out Starbursts.

Welcome aboard the Rangers’ bandwagon. Let’s hope this train has eight more wins on it.

Miccoli: Let’s be clear here, I’m rooting for the Rangers only because I’m a Boston resident and they happen to be playing Montreal after eliminating the Bruins. Also, Henrik. I think they win in 7, too … only because I want to see you and my roommate, also a big Rangers fan, sweat out seven games against Montreal. Once that happens, go Blackhawks! Go Ducks! Go Kings! Go any other team not in the East.

I will say this, though–this time of year is fantastic. As someone who has gotten to cover it and enjoy it twice in the last four years now, I can safely say there’s nothing better and that everyone should experience it just once. With that said, yes, I hope you get to experience a Cup Final again.

I just hope the Blackhawks (or Kings or whoever) wins it in six.