The Canadiens completed the task we asked of them. They did it by the slightest margin possible.
Come Thursday, the Canadiens will face off against the Boston Bruins because an NHL tie-breaking rule favours the record between teams with identical records over goal differential.
Amazingly, this team we support (who had 56 points after 41 games) managed to crawl to the same record as the Florida Panthers. Each garnered 93 points from a .500 season, each with an unhealthy complement of points for losing. The Panthers scored three more goals than they allowed; the Canadiens 2 more. The decider, as it is, were the 3 games that went to Montreal from 4 between the two squads. Funnily enough, coming into this season, the Panthers were the only team in the current league to hold a winning record against our squad.
The tight result reminds me very much of a similar experience of my own. In my case, it was a very important competition won against arch-rivals. In the end we did it by 2 points – on a recount. That was swimming, this is hockey; but the rewards of such a tightly fought race are the same.
Today Robert L writes how the Canadiens have been failed by their lack of supporting cast. He mentions the setbacks of Price, O'Byrne and Sergei Kostitsyn and the stalls of Higgins, Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn. While there's not much dispute about most of that here. It could also be said that the supporting cast actually played a very significant role in the end – in a season, that is, where every single point counted.
For us, the sweetest part was that tight swimming victory all those years ago meant every single member of the team that year was a contributor. Whether a 5-time gold medallist and relay anchor or a one-event finalist who beat one opponent. The same is true for the Canadiens. Every single member of the hockey team can look back at the season and find their part in getting that single point, OTL, game-tying goal, key blocked shot, etc. In fact, our stats tell me that no less than 28 different players at least earned themselves a dome and 16 won game pucks.
You only need to think of Matt D'Agostini and Tomas Plekanec, who on the whole have had pretty tumultuous seasons, but who both played starring roles in important victories at critical times. Sergei Kostitsyn, Tom Kostopoulos, Francis Bouillon, Mike Komisarek, they're all there alongside the Kovalevs, Koivus and Markovs who we expect to be looking to at this stage of the season.
If that's not something positive to take from this season, then I don't know what is. I can tell you from experience, this can bring a great energy to a team.
On that note, I thought I would highlight a few of the critical moments of the season and the performances that helped get us points:
1) Jaroslav Halak (Game 6)
Game puck, dome, 35 saves on 36 shots and a win vs. the Florida Panthers.
2) Carey Price (Game 18)
Dome, critical saves at critical times. Shootout win.
3) Tom Kostopoulos (Game 19)
Dome, game-tying goal and 2 point night.
4) Maxim Lapierre (Game 35)
Game puck, dome, hat trick against the Panthers, including the game winner and 2 insurance goals in the 5-2 win over Florida.
5) Andrei Kostitsyn (Game 38)
Game puck, done, 2 goals on 2 shots to make sure we made OT and beat the Panthers.
6) Sergei Kostitsyn (Game 41)
Good game, done and a game-winning goal with 22 seconds to go against Washington.
7) Chris Higgins (Game 49)
Game puck, dome, game-tying one-on-two goal with less than 2 to go in what would be a win for the Habs vs. LA.
8) Alexei Kovalev (reinvention)
Many lesser players would have taken the sit-down as a massive affront (Craig Rivet...), but Alexei turned his season around through sheer power of will. Pride may be a vice, but in the Habs case, Kovalev's pride saved us a season.
9) Ryan O'Byrne (Game 66)
A solid defensive effort from one of our worst defenders resulted in a solid, nerve calming win in Dallas (of no help to Carbo, obviously).
10) Matt D'Agostini (Game 81)
Game puck, dome, playoff-clinching goal vs. the Bruins in a wild one.