Going into Tuesday’s Game 4 match up against the Ottawa Senators, the Montreal Canadiens find themselves with a 3-0 lead in the series.
There are many reasons they’ve been able to put together such a big lead. For one, the Habs have outplayed Ottawa in the net. While Andrew Hammond went on quite a remarkable run for the Senators in the regular season, Carey Price has demonstrated the difference between a goaltender who is riding a hot streak and a goaltender who is in line to potentially win the league’s MVP award.
Sure every game has only been decided by one goal, but in the Stanley Cup playoffs that can make all the difference in the world.
It’s really easy to analyze the series from the standpoint of goaltending or scoring and give Montreal the edge in terms of talent and veteran leadership, but diving even deeper into the series, there’s another aspect of the game that helps to shape the outcome.
That is the role of the unsung heroes that take the third or fourth line shift on a regular basis.
One such unsung hero is Habs forward Dale Weise. Weise scored both the Habs’ goals in Game 3, including the overtime winner, giving his team a chance to go for the sweep on Tuesday. Coming into the games Weise had only scored 10 times in the entire regular season, but the truth is that it’s so much more than goals that an unsung hero can provide when it comes to making an impact during the times that matter the most.
Weise, like so many other third and fourth-line grinders in the league, is the type of player who is counted on to kill penalties block shots, forecheck and backcheck hard and basically do whatever the coaching staff asks of him. He does the dirty work and seldom gets any credit for anything, but when he’s needed the most, he’s the type of player that can surprise everybody and rise to the occasion.
Those little things that Wiese and his fellow grinders do add up not just on the ice but also off of it. It’s easy to tell during intermission and post game interviews that Weise is the type of player that brings some personality to the locker room and helps other players gel together. When the going gets tough and the intensity reaches a whole new level, you need those kind of guys to help keep everybody going.
They may not get all the credit in the world when it comes to awards and accolades or be able to demand the most money at the bargaining table when it comes to negotiating a contract, but in a way it makes sense because the value guys like Weise provide to a team is priceless. He’s the kind of guy that will go out there and sacrifice his body for the good of the team, and the kind of guy teammates are genuinely excited for when he makes a big impact on the scoreboard, even if it’s only once in a while.
Maybe that’s what’s missing in the Senators’ lineup.
Not that they don’t have their share of gritty veterans of course. Even a guy as tough and experienced as Chris Neil isn’t necessarily going to change the outcome of a series if the rest of his team isn’t measuring up, but at the same time everyone knows that a team can’t win the Stanley Cup without having at least a few classic Don Cherry-approved type grinders out there, and from the Canadiens’ perspective, it certainly looks as if they have enough of those to make it really deep into the playoffs.