With their win last night against the Ottawa Senators, the Montreal Canadiens, with 96 points, guaranteed themselves a spot in the 2008 playoff dance. They got the 2 points against their Achilles' heel, they maintained their lead atop the Eastern Conference and they got the Ottawa monkey off their back.... but it wasn't pretty.
The first period saw that Habs totally manipulate the Sens and score 3 unanswered goals by Kostitsyn (2) and Higgins sending the packed Bell Centre into an utter state of euphoria. That was enough for Brian Murray to pull the shaky Martin Gerber and insert Rowdy Ray Emery in the hopes he would settle things down.
Emery made quite a few initial great saves and even motivated his team to score a goal (Antoine Vermette's) at the 9:43 mark of the second, reducing the lead to 2 goals, but the Habs would have none of that. They exploded on Emery and the Sens with 4 more goals of their own (Bouillon, Grabovski Markov) including a shorthanded beauty on a 2 on 1 break by... Tom Kostopoulos.
The 3rd period should have been a cakewalk right? If the Habs would have played the last period as they did the first two, perhaps, but there was a collective abandonment of the team's game plan as well as the team's abandonment of Carey Price who looked vulnerable in some cases during Ottawa's comeback attempt.
Ottawa wasted no time trying to get back into this game. While many other teams would have mailed it in heading into the 3rd down by 6 goals, the Sens knew the implications of 1) this 4 point game against their rival in the division and the Eastern conference lead and 2) sending a message to a team they will probably meet in the playoffs.
Goals by Heatley and Lapointe within the first 5 minutes stopped the Bell Centre crowd, for a while at least, from serenading the Sens with Manfred Mann's "Na Na Hey Hey Goodbye".
One would think that this was a goog enough wakeup call to the habs, but they were still reeling when Heatley scored again at 9:23. This brought the score to 7-4 and if the Sen's 5th goal would have come sooner than Spezza's poweplay marker at 19:02, the final score, headline and story of this game might have turned out completely differently.
Points to ponder:
The Canadiens' first 2 periods were played extremely well with the Canadiens dictating the play and handing the Alfredssen, Heatley, Spezza line a combined -6 to that point. The young Habs got, perhaps, a tad overconfident going into the 3rd, but thankfully, the damage had been done and it was enough to still be able to leave with the knowledge that they CAN beat the Sens.
Were you as impressed as me to see the maturity level on Sergei Kostitsyn and Mikhail Grabovski when they combined for the Habs' 6th goal? Although it was only Grabovski's 3rd goal and a spectacular diving deflection off of Sergei's seeing eye pass from the corner, both players met each other with a simple "nice job" pat on the helmet instead of a party at centre ice. Well done boys ! It's the big picture that counts, right?. It was, after all the 6th goal of the game, no need to over react... How were you to know you had just scored the game winner?!
The Habs have till Friday when they meet the Sabres to ponder a 60 minute game. The Sabres meet the Senators twice before then and should be worse for wear, but don't tell the Habs.