The Boston Bruins entered the 2014 playoffs as prohibitive favorites to win the Eastern Conference and make it to the Stanley Cup final. But through the first three games of their second-round matchup against the Montreal Canadiens, the Bruins haven’t looked like men among boys. At different points in the series, they’ve been flummoxed, exasperated and reduced to complaining about the officiating.
They’re in this position not because of Habs star goalie Carey Price (although his superb play has been a big factor). They’re in trouble because they have no answer for P.K. Subban, who has gotten into their heads, set up a hammock and is basking in the glow that comes with being a burgeoning superstar in one of the game’s greatest markets. And if they can’t locate that answer, Boston could soon find itself on the wrong end of the biggest upset of the playoffs thus far.
Although he’s had moments of defensive ineptness through the regular season and still can pinch his way into positional trouble, Subban has been everything the Canadiens could have wanted in this post-season. On the ice, he’s human 5-hour Energy Drink, a player whose second gear can lead his opponents to receive first aid for windburn and whiplash – and one who currently leads all Eastern Conference playoff point-producers with 11 in seven games. Off the ice, he’s an ambassador made out of Teflon, able to shrug off heavy topics (such as the racist boors who occasionally slither out from under their rocks to lob pathetic epithets at him) and packs of roaming reporters with a smile and wisdom that belies his age.
The Bruins also have a dominant blueliner in Zdeno Chara, but with due respect to the guy I voted for to win the Norris Trophy this year, Chara hasn’t had anywhere near as much of an impact as Subban has had on this series. In Montreal’s Game 1 victory, Chara played 42 shifts for a total of 32:25 and was held off the scoresheet completely; Subban, on the other hand, played 45 shifts for a total of 33:49 and scored the overtime winner. In all three games against the Bruins, Subban has posted two points – and he’s had at least one point in every playoff game other than Montreal’s first game against Tampa Bay. And his overall playoff time on ice average (27:34) is better than that of Chara (26:13) and Drew Doughty, (27:14).
Subban is establishing himself as one of the NHL’s biggest big-game players. Where some stars shrink from the pressure of the spotlight, he feeds off it. He’s far from a perfect player – at 24 years old, how could he be? – but his speed, instincts on offense and flair for the dramatic combine to make a package that has no equal on the Bruins’ defense corps.
Boston fans are welcome to loathe Subban if they believe him to be cocky, underhanded, or reckless. (Of course, the same labels could be applied to Bruins agitator Brad Marchand, but that’s a column for another day.) But if they don’t believe Subban has been the driving force in this series, they ought to check their heads, because he’s gotten in there, too.
All in all, Subban is drinking the Bruins’ collective milkshake and doing it with that famous, beaming smile. In fairness to their supporters, you’d probably hate a guy who was doing that to you, too. But once you remove yourself from the partisan lens of fandom, it’s impossible to deny the truth: P.K. Subban is the truth.