Friday, March 28, 2008

Game #78

The Habs Refuse to Stop Amazing Us; Another Incredible Comeback Win

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Friday March 28th, 2008
Opponent: Buffalo Sabres
Venue: HSBC Arena, Buffalo, NY

Team Stripes

Final Score: 4-3 (OT) - Win

Habs starting goalie: Carey Price (W)
Opposition starting goalie: Ryan Miller (OT)

Habs goalscorers: Alexei Kovalev, Tomas Plekanec (2), Christopher Higgins
Opposition goalscorers: Drew Stafford, Nathan Paetsch, Daniel Paille

2007/08 first
There's a first time for everything, so they say. What they didn't tell you is that every game, something happens for the first time, you just have to look harder in March...

1st 97+ Point season for the Habs since '92-'93 (Stanley Cup, 102 Points)
1st Time that Price has ever started 4 games in a row
1st Time that Higgins has scored an OT winner

Play of the game
The play you're straining to see on the press catwalk monitor...

Often times the little things will win you games and a good team is generally one who does all the little things right. The play of the game isn't the obvious OT winner or even one of our other goals, but it is a play that enabled us to leave Buffalo with any points at all.

With less than a minute left and with Price pulled the Sabres came out of their zone on a 2-on-2 and looked primed to score into an empty net. A mistake on their part was made when they shot for the goal from their side of centre. At that point Streit hustled back as fast as he could and when the puck went wide he was there just in time to beat the Sabre and have icing called. The play by Mark allowed Price to remain on the bench as it gave us a face-off in Buffalo's end and inevitably to our goal. This was a perfect example of how never giving up on a play will pay its dividends in the end - no matter what 100% effort is always required.

Game puck
Trophies are for the end of the year, play well in the game, you get a lovely puck...

Mark Streit

Streit made a mistake behind our net which led to Buffalo's third goal - it was a bad play and he knew it. Instead of hanging his head in shame for the last half of the third period Mark made it his mission to repay his team. What he ended up doing was quite incredible. Within a 6 minute stretch spanning the 3rd period and OT he set up 3 goals to give him a career high 3 assists in a single game and basically steal 2 points from the Sabres. The look on Mark's face after his mistake and the look after goals 1 and 2 (of the 3) said it all - utter dismay followed by slight relief, but nothing more. It wasn't until the goal in OT that he fully celebrated, not until he knew the job was done.

I remember Wayne Gretzky doing something very similar after he scored into his own net of Game #1 of the '93 Cup Final at The Forum. Wayne had the same looks on his face that night and it wasn't until the game ended with a 4-1 L.A. win that he knew he had accomplished what he had to do, what he felt he owed his team. I am in no way trying to compare Streit to the incomparable Great One, but just wanted to point out this very special quality I saw tonight. Streit has the heart of a champion and this is something that cannot be taught. It shows how much he cares for his teammates and for the success of his team. I hope he doesn't make too many more big mistakes like he did, but if he does it is nice to know that Mark the redeemer, Mark the winner will be there for the Habs.

Dome hockey team
We're going into the last minute with these 6 (and they're attached to the ice, so they're not coming off)...


Tomas Plekanec
- He scored 2 goals in the last 3 minutes of regulation in what has to be one of the best single-game performances by a Hab all year. His goal total now sits at 29 and he has 4 games left to hit 30. Was very effective on the PK and in his own end as well as in Buffalo's (obviously)

Christopher Higgins
- Chris scored his 24th tonight which is his 49th point - both career highs. Sometimes the talent of this player is forgotten as he has often been over-shadowed by others on the team this year. This game, however, was a perfect example of his true vale - he hit, skated, generated chances, shot (game-high-7) and ultimately scored the OT winner

Alexei Kovalev
- His control of the puck on the PP was at the heart of our second goal. Without him on the ice I don't believe that we would have gotten the chance that we did as Buffalo gave him so much space. The Sabres were reluctant to attack Alex, mostly because no player wanted to be undressed by him. His goal was very nice, a perfect passing play with Grabo


Mark Streit
- His defensive play tonight, other than his cough-up, was solid again. His offensive play from the point was just unbelievable. His 3 assists give him a mind-boggling 46 on the season to go along with 12 goals. That now brings Mark's season total up to 58 points which ranks 3rd in the NHL and 1st (by 1 point) on the Habs. People will argue that a lot of those points came as a forward and to that I say that he gets more points from the point/playing as a D-man than as a forward. The fact that he plays forward has slowed him down! What a replacement to Souray - he costs way less, can actually play defence and can do more that just shoot on the power-play. I would take 58 points, -9 and creativity over 64 points, -28 and a shot any day

Andrei Markov
- This was a very solid night of work for Andrei. He was fantastic in his own end again as he is now making Gorges look like a top-3 defenceman. He was on the ice for our 2nd and 3rd goals and although he didn't get any points he did play a significant role in our comeback


Carey Price
- This was a very good game for Carey. He was confidant all game and didn't let his mistakes or goals against change his game-plan. The Sabres took 38 shots as they were applying offensive pressure all game, but Price was up to the test. Tomorrow will be a well deserved night off for the 20 year-old and then it will be all Price from here on in

Eyes on Kovalev
Did he flit and float? Someone ought to keep track...

For just the second time in his career Alex has hit the 80-point plateau. The first time he did it he was 7 years younger and playing with such superstars as Lemieux, Jagr, Lang and Straka. So, I think this is quite possibly his best season ever. His goal was something that wouldn't have happened up until this year. Not because he scored it, but because of the confidence and creativity Grabovski showed in sending the puck back to him. I attribute those qualities of Grabovski's (and other youngsters) to Kovy himself as he has shown he is a true leader on and off the ice.

Kovalev's Assessment - Very Good

Overall Comments

Buffalo were desperate to win tonight and looked like they were going to do it too. They outplayed us for pretty much the entire game, until the last 2 minutes that is. Their offence did everything in their power to get the win tonight, but their D and goaltending couldn't hold down the fort. Had they not scored their third, thus infuriating Streit then they win this game 2-1. Our team wanted to win, but Streit HAD to. This win, along with so many other great comebacks and moments from this season, will prove to be a valuable lesson learned come playoff time.

Tonight's display by Buffalo made me sit back and wonder what happened to this team, how were they so much worse than they had been just last season. The answer of course is simple - they lost Briere and Drury. So, does losing two good players always change the fate of a team? I don't believe so, not if you have players to back them up in your own end. If you look at teams that have been good over the past 5-10 years for a year here and there you see Ottawa, Carolina, Buffalo, Tampa Bay, Nashville. What all of these teams have in common is that they relied heavily on offensive star-power. As went Richards, St. Louis, Brind'Amour etc. so went those teams. None of those teams are or were dynasties and none stayed at the top for too, too long. If you want to see great teams over the past 5-10 years that have always remained at the top you have to look no further than Detroit, New Jersey, Dallas, Anaheim and Colorado. What all of these teams have (had in the Avalanche's case) is a great defence (system and players) and excellent goaltending. So, if you want to make it to the top the answer if offence and if you want to stay there you need a back end.

I honestly believe that the Habs have the makings of a great team that can last 5-10 years at the top and not just follow in the footsteps of the Lightning or other one-year wonders. Our defence has become the envy of the East as we now boast 7 excellent NHL-calibre defenceman with at least another 5 stand-outs on the way. Gone are perennial #4-5s (Souray and Rivet) and in are mobile, puck-handling, talented defencemen. Markov is a bonafide #1 and Hamrlik and Komi are easily #2s. Streit's offence is simply incredible and if you put that together with his average to above-average defensive skills he comes out as a #3. Gorges has come a long way this year and is now considered a #4. Bouillon brings experience, speed and grit; that makes him an easy #5. O'Byrne, our current #7, can play on most nights and to me is a #6 on the rise. So there you have it, dynasty-ready D. The last thing we need is good, reliable, long-term goaltending - it's a good thing we have 2 options there.

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