Coaches love to futz around with personnel for psychological effect during the postseason, even if it has little impact on their team's opponents. Witness Bruce Boudreau's goaltending mystery before Game 2, which the New York Rangers -- to a man -- said had absolutely no consequence on their preparation; it was a move meant to stabilize the position and, more importantly, motivate the Capitals.
Sometime this afternoon, Montreal Canadiens Coach Bob Gainey will likely name a starter for tonight's Game 3 at home against the Boston Bruins. Early indications are that it could be Carey Price, last seen getting chased in Game 2. Gainey gave Price a vote of confidence after pulling him for Jaroslav Halak; perhaps staying with the sophomore keeper would be a "stay the course!" symbol of confidence in the team's overall chances.
Much more interesting, however, are the other players skating for Montreal this morning. Could the promised return of a few key players deeper into the postseason serve as a carrot for the Habs in this series?
Or is Montreal's centennial season doomed to end at the hands of the B's?
Habs Inside/Out reports that both veteran center Robert Lang and defenseman Andrei Markov were on the ice working out this morning. The timetable for either player returning to the lineup remains unknown, but the fact is that the team's top blue-liner and the scoring pivot it has missed for months are working hard to get back into the lineup.
It's glimmer of hope for the hopeless; a promise that if the Canadiens rally tonight and in Game 4, it's a new series that could potentially feature reinforcements.
Make that spectacular reinforcements: The Canadiens' power play has ranked somewhere between "tragedy" and "ass" in these playoffs, as they've failed to draw penalties and then haven't converted for a power-play goal in the series. The addition of either Lang or Markov to the lineup could change that immediately.
Perhaps those players can even lend a little stability to a lineup that's had none in the first two games, courtesy of Gainey. From the Globe & Mail:
Gainey has little wiggle room in his roster. He scratched Patrice Brisebois, Tomas Plekanec and Matt D'Agostini to put in Francis Bouillon, Yannick Weber and Sergei Kostitsyn. It not only failed to work, but Bouillon appears lost yet again to injury, as he did not return after the first period on Saturday.
The only way Lang and Markov matter is if the Habs win Game 3. And for that to happen, the solution from the Canadiens has been clear: Stop being so stupid.
The Habs have 14 more PIM than the Bruins in the series, and that's because Boston is smart (outside of a few rage-a-thons from Milan Lucic and Tim Thomas): It ranked 25th in the NHL in PIM during the regular season while playing a physical brand of hockey. Montreal has taken some awful penalties and has been goaded into others.
With Lucic serving a one-game suspension tonight, the Canadiens hope that's one less distraction on the ice. From the Gazette:
The ban will deprive the Bruins of their infamous tank. But perhaps more importantly, it will eliminate any Canadiens urge to chase him, against their better judgment, around the rink.
"They're playing with their brains," Hamrlik said of the brawny Bruins. "We want to use our brains more and (stop) taking stupid penalties. We have to stay out of the box. Five-on-five, we're playing pretty good hockey."
Smart, stupid ... this series is more than the Habs beating themselves; that's so 2008. The Bruins are dictating the play and winning games on their terms.
They were also 11 games over .500 on the road, and Tim Thomas was 2-0-1 at Bell Centre with a 1.90 GAA and a .934 save percentage. So the Bruins are ready for the chaotic crowd in Montreal; get a lead early, and they'll likely just start jeering the locals instead, right?
In other words, don't expect to see Thomas more concerned about the fans near the glass than stopping the puck ... right, Carey? [H/T Hub Hockey]
[Lead photo via Cycle Like the Sedins]