Saturday, April 11, 2009

It's looking like Boston

Though no one should take anything for granted, it looks as though Bob Gainey wouldn't mind facing the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs.

The team's performance in Boston on Thursday night had to have an influence on his decision to give Alex Tanguay the night off against the Penguins in the season finale at the Bell Centre tonight.

Of course, the Canadiens could still win with the lineup Gainey is proposing, but when he says he's going to use the game as preparation for the playoffs by trying some different things to see if they will be useful later on, you have to think that actually winning the game is not the number one priority.

Carey Price will be in goal after what I thought was a strong performance in Boston, despite the five goals allowed, some of them of the soft variety. What impressed me most was the way he played after the Bruins went ahead 3-1 with a few masterful saves, allowing his team to get back in the game and even take the lead before a boneheaded delay of game penalty by Mathieu Dandenault opened the door for the Bruins.

With both Georges Laraque and Gregory Stewart in the lineup, I also look at tonight's game as a playoff audition to see who could fill the policeman role in the playoffs. Laraque has a decent amount of playoff experience, reaching the Stanley Cup final with the Penguins last year and the Oilers in 2006 while playing a regular shift with both teams. But Stewart's speed should give him the inside track on the job for the playoffs, since there are hardly ever any fights and the level of intimidation comes more from big hits than big punches. But to hit someone you have to be able to catch him, and Stewart definitely has an advantage in that category.

I'm also eager to see Yannick Weber play a full game on defence, because if he's able to acquit himself well in his own end against some pretty challenging forwards like Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and company, he should give Gainey confidence to use him back there in the playoffs.

I'm pretty stunned to see Mathieu Schneider is expected to play tonight, which must mean that there really is no chance he could aggravate his injured shoulder by taking a big hit along the boards. Still, it's a risk I see little point in taking, especially when Patrice Brisebois and Ryan O'Byrne are available to take that spot.

In fact, I would have liked to see O'Byrne in uniform tonight because it would have provided him a final opportunity to prove his potential playoff value. Right now, I see little chance of him playing in the playoffs barring a string of injuries, but perhaps a strong game tonight could have given O'Byrne a chance to make a case. There's nothing really to lose by dressing him, so I guess the decision's already been made in his case.

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