It's game day. Elimination game day to be exact. A loss tonight means it's time to say goodbye to the season and clear out the lockers for another long summer before the quest for the cup begins again in 2011-2012 regular season. A win tonight on the other hand extends the lifeline by one more game at least and game 7 will belong to the team that plays with the most desperation.
It's not an unfamiliar situation for the Canadiens, they have been there before, at least the core of the group playing together in this team has "been there, done that". Twice they came back from behind and eliminated worthy opponents like the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2010-2011 playoff season. They played desperate hockey with a do or die attitude and they were backed by a netminder who was in the zone. While it's not the same guy but they still have that netminder this year, a young player named Carey Price, who has been in the zone this whole season and has given his team every chance he can to win hockey games (2.00 GAA and a .938 SV% in the playoffs). However, the team in front has had shaky starts, periodic lethargy and veterans who speak big, may have a big impact in the room, but fizzle on the ice.
The attitude in the room before the game begins? "You just go out and do whatever it takes, bring whatever you can to the table" says Hal Gill, the big defenseman who just keeps on plugging away and has had a great impact throughout the season on the development of rookie PK Subban. Gill has blocked 14 shots so far in this series and has logged well above 20 minutes per game with 37:39 coming from the double overtime game 5. He realizes he needs to bring whatever he can to the table.
Forward Lars Eller knows the importance of this game as well, more important than the Game 7 where both teams will face elimination, but in this case, it's only the Montreal Canadiens. "These are the games you live for and the ones you might talk about 10 years after your career, that game 6 against Boston" says Eller, "I can't wait to get out there tonight".
So how do the Habs prepare for this game? Says Cammalleri: “The best thing you can do when going into an elimination game, especially one where the other team isn’t facing elimination too, is to go in with that kind of liberating feeling that lets you just go out there play the best hockey you can and let the chips fall where they may.”
One area where the Habs have struggled a lot is the faceoff circle. They have won a total of 146 faceoffs for a 46% success ratio but have lost many important faceoffs. Veteran Scott Gomez has been the most disappointing player on the faceoff circle (39%, 22%, 31%, 42% and 33% for the five games respectively) and yet has continued to take defensive zones and offensive zone faceoffs. Jeff Halpern won 73% of the 15 faceoffs he took in game 5 and yet he has not been called upon to take more of those unlike Patrice Bergeron for the Bruins who has been seen often to be out on the ice just for the faceoff. No one has to explain the importance of puck possession. Losing a defensive zone faceoff led to the double overtime goal. "We want that puck", Said Ryan White who has also been called upon to take a few faceoffs here and there and has won many of them, "they are big faceoffs right now and they will keep on getting bigger and bigger as the game goes on".
Scott Gomez, who has not only struggled in the faceoff circle, has been one of those veterans who needs to lead by example. While Coach Martin does not want to bench Gomez, presumably because of his leadership abilities and the fear of adverse mental effects it may have on the team, he should at least try to get Halpern to take more of those faceoffs rather than Scott Gomez. Coach Martin remains an optimist though. "Every game has been so close, we had opportunities", Said Martin, "Both teams are so close and they match up well, you gotta give credit to the players for competing and understanding how close it is."
The best quote from the room comes from defenseman Jaroslav Spacek, who has also been struggling following a return to the lineup after a knee surgery: "We were in this position before we just gotta go balls out."
Let's not forget the Bruins, they have rallied back after losing the first two games at home and have won three straight ones to lead the series 3-2. The stats were out after the Bruins lost the first two games and historically, they were not supposed to win, but the team has been playing with much desperation and is hell-bent on proving history wrong. The reason why the Bruins have been winning? Hulking defender Zdeno Chara: "We have been playing with a lot more desperation." While on paper, Bruins have the edge over the Habs, on the ice, the teams are matched equally and as Montreal's head coach Jacques Martin said, they have been close. Indeed, desperation does make a difference.
Chara also understands the importance of game 6 even though the Bruins look to be in prime position to eliminate the Canadiens. "We all realize the importance of that game and we have to bring the same mental approach I'm sure they [the Habs] are going to bring."
Zdeno Chara is not alone, his attitude and his approach is echoed by everybody in the Boston dressing room. Patrice Bergeron, who has been one of the best Bruin on the ice and one of the major reasons why the Canadiens have a bad record in the faceoff circle, says "The fourth game is the toughest and being desperate is one of the things we need to do."
Are the Bruins confident? Indeed. "We play confident with Timmy behind us" says the recently acquired defenseman Tomas Kaberle, "We are going to play the same game, hard, chip it in and go to the net". And can the Bruins win? "We are going to make sure we play our game and have that winning attitude." continues Bergeron.
The second overtime hero Nathan Horton sums the game up for both the sides: "They know that they need to win as do we, so it's gonna be another entertaining game"