Location: Long Island
Loss: 3-4 (SO)
Habs Goalie: Halak (L)
Opposition Goalie: Biron (W)
Habs goalscorers: Plekanec, Gionta, Lapierre
Opposition goalscorers: Comeau, Bergenheim, Nielsen (Moulson, Nielsen – SO)
Haven't we waited a long time for a real beauty? Funny thing is, one comes and we have choice for others nearly as pretty. The winner for tonight's honour has to go to the goal that secured a point – courtesy of Maxim Lapierre. The play was all Max. He starts by taking back control for the team and looping back into the zone. A firm pass to Bergeron, who passes quickly to Darche gives Max time to slingshot through the neutral zone. Darche makes a nice pass to Max from blueline to blueline and Max challenges the coverage with speed. It starts getting beautiful when he splits the defenders and becomes Max's best ever when he calmly wards off the poke check clearance with a skate to stick pass. Taking control in time to outlast the defence and apply a deke, he then roofs it past a stunned Biron. Magnifique is what Houde sprung to. He was right. This is a reminder of why people get up in arms about Lapierre at all. Some talents couldn't piece together one element of this 5-part play.
Andrei Kostitsyn – Game Puck
Lapierre's goal was the class of the night, but Andrei tempted a few times with elusive skating, strong puck defence and threaded passes. I thought on the night, he was the danger man for the Habs. HI pass on the Plekanec goal was exactly the kind of play you'd hope for from a top line pairing heading into the playoffs (a bit of synergy and zip). 5 shots on target from 6 attempts to Cammalleri's 1 from 4, show that Pleks should be looking West with the passes for a while.
What he accomplished, he did in little time. There was the very important goal and also a very dangerous and well taken shot that nearly finished the game. 10:34 of ice all told will probably be a low for a while after Max makes his second dome in a week. He is forgiven for a shootout attempt saved, because he tested with a move that would have worked another time. Really, he couldn't have chosen a better time to step up his game, given Metropolit's absence.
This was a toss up. Our third line is a brilliant late season find, and must be the biggest reason for optimism for the playoffs as far as I'm concerned. Lines 1 and 2 did their jobs tonight, creating chances and confusion. Line 3, however, went beyond. The line seemed to be a good bet for the Habs. Dominic Moore was once again a dynamo, and he narrowly misses here. Sergei gets the final nod for a couple of reasons. First, Sergei played a mean game positionally in the offensive zone – always using his body to preserve the puck he now seems to want so badly. Second, there were silky passes we hadn't been seeing early in the season. His play to nearly end the game (against the post) was sublime.
I don't want to belittle Ryan, but some teams suit him – the Islanders is one of them. The young team is not organized in attack and prone to a big body erasing the overeager puck carrier. Tonight Ryan did that with regularity. Positioning his body to win the puck was his major skill. The scorekeeper calling him for 10 hits shows us he often times also made the boards echo with Islanders. For me, this represents a high in what has been a good little progression for the student O'Byrne.
If you read the premise behind the dome carefully, it says we will choose the six players we want to play, the six best players. Markov, with such wealth of skill, must be beaten then by a significant effort to warrant exclusion. Tonight I didn't feel anyone was up to that mark. Andrei didn't play his best game, but he was at least as good as Gill, Bergeron and Hamrlik and probably better than Gorges. The stats sheet says this was Bergeron's dome, only bad passes are bad passes to me, whether punished or not. What's more, Andrei has some great PP minutes himself, even if not rewarded with a GF. Interesting is that Jacques Martin managed Andrei's minutes in this one to the point of madness – Markov played a mere 21:09, and his even strength minutes were lowest on the squad.
Today we heard that numbers are for bean counters. This game offered a lot of beans. 42 shots were directed at Halak in game play, 39 were saved. Critics will say that most were innocuous, and critics would be dead on there. Still, Halak probably did make 8 or so pretty big saves, including one sensational stop on Tavares. In the end, Halak gave his team a chance to win. He also missed a shot that led to OT and played a weak effort on the first shooter. Most important in the end were the saves, a game that goes to OT 3-3 with 42 shots allowed is not one to beat up a goalie too harshly for. A goal allowed at the end of the second, another in the first, or earlier in the third might have changed the complexion and cost the single point.
I'm sure we all expected a win tonight. The underpowered Islanders with no reason to win were amrked as an easy obstacle to qualification. But as we should well know in this of all seasons, nothing is decided. The Islanders are a young team, learning on the fly and experimenting on the go. They start a goalie hanging onto a career and veteran players showcasing for a way out. They had little to play for in the playoff race, perhaps, but much to play for as individuals. The first period this seemed to stun the Canadiens as much as it did the Habs fan majority in Uniondale. However, by the second, I thought the Habs were putting a firm grip on things. Turning points, good goals and a shootout later and it's a good spectacle and a point. I can't say that from the first period deficit in goals and play that I'm disappointed with the swing it took.
The biggest reason to celebrate on the night are the Thrashers and Rangers losses to convincing sides. New York offered little after a first period lead and rally and Gaborik looks likely to sit out a post-season yet again while Gomez might yet see action. Atlanta crash out in predictable fashion as Oduya can't score at the 50-goal level of his trade partner. Buffalo won to clinch the division and thereby ensure no Senators for the Habs (the desired result). And, Washington beating Pittsburgh is more good news, as the Penguins would be the worst case scenario in round 1 (worse even than NJ).
The NHL hasn't put an X beside the team in the standings, but the destiny rests with the team – who after a feisty effort, I feel are up to claiming it.