Opponent: Maple Leafs
Loss: 3-4 (OT)
Habs Goalie: Halak (L)
Opposition Goalie: Giguere (W)
Habs goalscorers: Markov, Gionta, Bergeron
Opposition goalscorers: Hanson (2), Stalberg, Phaneuf
The play that set us up for the way this would go down was the first goal. The beleaguered Pouliot, barely escaping a benching, made a play to create the goal as he battled harder than we've seen him battle in some time, winning the puck and then off balance (perhaps with a body part) sent a pass to a marauding Markov. It was a smashing start, both literally and metaphorically, and meant that the Habs understood goals could be taken. Given the game that followed for Ben, it was just reward to get an assist on this early one.
All game, the Canadiens seemed to be able to get momentum back when the Gomez line got back on the ice. Scott was pretty good, Pouliot would look better if he didn't hit the post and miss open nets so much, and Gionta just gave us what we have learned to expect from him. His 28th goal of the season was typical of him - proving his critics wrong by standing ground and winning a battle in front of the net. Typical also was his scattergun shooting (10 shots and 12 attempts).
A post or two and a couple of linemates were all that kept Cammalleri from ending this season a complete hero. I wouldn't say he was the best forward, but of all on the ice, he seemed to show the most commitment to winning that puck, to making this postseason. The good news for fans as the season goes on beyond tonight is that he is back to early season form - looking good without ever scoring. 26 goals say how that turned out.
I don't know if Gomez believed what he said on the CBC intermission interview (that goals against don't rattle vets), but he played like it. His start tonight was amazing, tone-setting even. His response to that Halak mishap was exemplary as well. All in all, Scott was probably the best forward on the ice, constantly finding Gionta for shots and Pouliot for posts. A few times, their line penned the Maple Leafs in their zone so long that the commentators were worried that the Habs shift was getting too long, a novelty for this fan. An excellent game rewarded for the maligned centre. Over to you Andrew...
Andrei Markov - Game Puck
Before the game, I suggested 5 things that must happen for the Habs to meet their goal this evening. First on the list was that Markov earn his reputation. Early on in the game, I checked this item off, as Andrei came out to lead from the back. His play in the defensive end was more conserved than it often is, but intelligent enough to launch attacks. On top of that, his goal was a fantastic signal to his men, and his PP play (perhaps with less reward than we'd wish for) was great again. The best player on the ice from either team without question. I don't care how many Halak slips Son of Slapshot scored.
After a week where all events and luck seemed to be going against this team, it was great to watch MAB skate around with a horseshoe hidden on his person. I usually try to be quite objective in these selections, ignore luck and reward good decision making. But let's face it, when you are trying to make the playoffs in these circumstances, having as much luck on the team's side as they can get is a good thing. Marc-Andre played what could have been a horrific game on defence. Yet his transgressions ended in Halak saves or misses (unlike say Hamrlik). On offense, he took a lot of shots and scored what was the playoff clincher. Let's face it though snakebit Pouliot and hard-luck Cammalleri had more to offer if the net was but 5 cm wider and higher. In my pre-game analysis I called for MAB to be used sparingly. This advice was squarely ignored as he played an astounding 24+ minutes. What Martin and Pearn knew that I didn't though was they'd hid their very last piece of equine footwear on the little Dman. Better to be lucky than good. Let's hope it continues.
Wow, Carey closes the season strongly with 2 domes on the trot. It would be something to cheer for if only he'd started. Jaro in this one was nervous and unprepared for the fight. That first goal was an elementary mistake, and shows he has much to learn. From there he offered both hot and cold. Where last week he stoned better Flyers and Sabres players all night, this time he let average shots from middling players through. It was ugly. I hope it was nerves and nothing more. Going forward, I still think Halak has a claim for the next start. Those two shutouts are less than 10 days away and ultimately the reason there is a next start. But as Carey's leash should have been shorter in previous years, I think Jaro needs to have eyes on him. If he starts playing the puck as if overcome by adrenaline next game, Carey must reveal his hat hair.
The loss that feels like a win. It's a strange feeling. I'm confident I'm not the only one feeling this way. Take for instance the 20 players and all the coaches. After they progressed to OT there was nothing more to worry about, defensive coverage out the window, concentration shut off.
I don't think it's such a bad thing, and I can understand. In my racing days, we'd have heats and finals. In the heats, you could do what was necessary to make the final. The Canadiens cleared their heat and are in the next round, so did essentially that. I also thought that more than half the team played well, several played extremely well (the dome as well as Lapierre, Moore, even Darche and Pyatt). In the end they were let down by some bad luck (Pouliot, Cammalleri) and some bad goaltending. It's nothing that can't be recovered from.
Besides, it was hard game to measure. The reffing, as ceremonious as it was after the final goal, was unceremoniously awful for the most part. Were it not for a roughing penalty to make up for the gross obstruction on Moen and a shot over the glass to make amends for the 10-second hold on Moore, then the Habs might not have had any PPs. It was reffed as a playoff game except for the automatic calls though, so the Habs need to ready themselves for more nonsense.
Finally, there will be those that will say the Canadiens missed an opportunity to put themselves in the best position, play the easiest opponent. Put aside for a minute that we don't know who the best opponent is (probably Washington, actually), the fact is there's no knowing even now who will be 7th or 8th or what 6th or 7th means for an opponent. Philadelphia and New York play tomorrow to decide who makes the playoffs. if Philly win, they are 7th and Mtl is 8th (Washington). If New York win as most experts seem to favour, Habs'll be 7th with NY in 8th. Now if 7th is our place, then we still won't know whether they'd be playing Buffalo or New Jersey - they face off for that honour tomorrow after the Philly NYR spat. In the game of choose your opponent the guys may not have done the wrong thing by keeping the Washington in the picture. They do have the most points in the league, but many are courtesy of their extra games in the Sunshine state. What's more they have Theodore in goal to Buffalo's Vezina winner and New Jersey's Hall of Famer. Just as you can't win friends with salad, you can't win games with no goals.
Don't worry be happy. We've made it this far.