Habs make it 4 in a row against Oilers; look to make it 5 tomorrow
Ever watched a hockey game and got the feeling that the ice was tilted in one direction of the rink? Like one of those labyrinth table mazes we all had when we were kids? Well that's what last night's 5-4 shootout win against the Edmonton Oilers felt like.
Maybe it was the fact that I was sitting at one side of the rink when it felt like all the action was taking place on the complete other side of the rink. Maybe it was just the natural progression of the game. Nevertheless, it was an odd one to watch.
For nearly the entire game, the play seemed stuck on either one side of the ice or the other. It was a back and forth game that didn't really seem to go anywhere, despite all the goals. A weak performance from Jaroslav Halak and a very rookie-like performance from Devan Dubnyn for the Oilers allowed eight goals to be scored in regulation.
The lead changed hands four times over the course of the game. The Canadiens struck first, with Tomas Plekanec's 20th of the season, the fourth straight year he's scored 20 goals or more with the Canadiens. Andrei Kostitsyn and Andrei Markov assisted on the goal. It was Kostitsyn's first point since December 28th, 2009, if you could believe it. The Oilers bounced back with goals from Nillsson and Gagner, but the Canadiens tied things up with Brian Gionta's 21st of the season. Gionta has scored 20 or more goals in each of the last 6 seasons he's played in the NHL. The goal was assisted by Benoit Pouliot, extending his point streak to 4 games, and Andrei Markov's second assist of the game, his 5th game in a row with at least a point and 2nd 2-point performance in a row.
The second period saw the Canadiens take the lead on a Travis Moen goal that was a long time coming, with assists coming from Moore and Sergei Kostitsyn. Andrew Cogliano tied things up 32 seconds into the third, but Sergei Kostitsyn would give the Habs the lead 8 minutes later, capping his first-star performance on a tremendous individual play and beautiful goal right in front of where I was sitting. Shawn Horcoff tied things up at 4 soon thereafter.
Oddly enough, Halak and Dubnyk really turned up the tempo in both overtime and the shootout, each stopping one shot in the extra frame, and with Dubnyk stopping 4 of 5 shots in the shootout, allowing only Andrei Kostitsyn to beat him. Halak had a perfect 5 for 5 record that helped win the game.
As evidenced by the shot totals of Edmonton - 25 and Montreal - 26, this was an awfully close game, with is something the Habs can't afford against literally the worst team in the league. They walked away (or should I say, limped away) with 2 extra points in the standings, so no one is going to complain about the lackluster performance they put forth against a team they should have no trouble beating when the points matter the most. But if they decide to play like that against any of their upcoming Eastern Conference opponents, they're going to be in for a big surprise.
Of their upcoming 13 final games, four are against teams that are near locks for the playoffs, and that are clearly superior to the Canadiens. Three are against teams that are in direct competition with the Canadiens for one of the final three playoff spots - the Bruins tomorrow night, the Rangers on Tuesday and the Flyers early next month. Four are against three teams that are a little further back but still in the mix of things, and depending on how the next two weeks go, could be desperate to take two points from the Habs. The remaining two games are against the Leafs, and whether they're in last place or not, are always dangerous against the Canadiens, especially at the end of the season.
Out of these 13 games, the Habs cannot afford to lose more than a handful. And unfortunately, if they put forth a performance like they did last night at the Bell Centre, the task of making the playoffs will be more difficult than it needs to be.
This stretch of incredibly important conference play begins tomorrow night, when the Canadiens host the Bruins for the sixth and final meeting between these two storied rivals.
The Canadiens have been extremely lucky against the Bruins this year, going 4 and 1 against Boston, including two shootout wins, one of their best wins of the season in the Centennial game, and a convincing 4-1 victory just last week. The only loss suffered against the Bruins was a 3-0 shutout last month in Boston.
Carey Price has been red hot against the Bruins this year and really throughout his career. While nothing has been announced, it is likely that he will face off against his old foes tomorrow night. Despite four wins in a row for Halak, he was not convincing in Tuesday's 5-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning, and, as described above, he was lucky to come out with the W last night against the Oilers.
The other line-up change will be Maxim Lapierre coming back in after serving a 4-game suspension forhitting San Jose's Scott Nichol from behind last Thursday. To make room for Lapierre, Ben Maxwell has been sent back to the Hamilton Bulldogs. Maxwell has yet to record a point in his NHL career, which includes 12 games and a -2 this year, and 7 games and a -1 last year. It's not really his fault, he's an offensive player who normally plays top minutes and puts up a lot of points in Hamilton that's asked to play 4th line replacement duty in Montreal.
The Canadiens, officially the hottest team in the league at the moment, if you can believe it, will go for 5 in a row, whether they deserve it or not, tomorrow night at the Bell Centre, and they will look to put another two points between them and the 8th place bruins before the night is up.
Enjoy tomorrow's game!