It was everything one would expect in a game from one team trying to keep their playoff hopes alive and another aiming for 1st in the Conference. Fast paced, lots of hits, lots of penalties and lots of emotion. From the opening face-off to the final siren, fans of both teams were treated to an exciting playoff style hockey game. In the end, however, it was the home team Montreal Canadiens who emerged victorious with contributions from the usual and not so usual suspects.
The Canadiens got the sold out Bell Centre crowd to their feet halfway through the 1st period when Christopher Higgins opened the scoring on a power play at 11:28 when he deflected a Mark Streit slapper from the blue line to beat Miller for his 25th goal and 50th point of the season. The Habs now have at least 7 players on the team with 50+ points on the season.
The house announcer didn't even have time to announce the Higgins goal when, a mere 30 seconds later, Bryan Smolinski jumped on a behind the net backhand pass from Steve Begin for his 7th of the year. Enter Pandemonium at the Bell Centre.
The game from this point on was a back and forth, edge of your seat, action packed spectacle where the Sabres tried to get back in it but were met by a brick wall named Carey Price. When the Canadiens took advantage of their odd man rushes and pretty passing plays from the Kovalev line, they were met by an equally impressive Ryan Miller who was also up to the task.
The teams exchanged goals after this when at the 14:32 mark of the second, Smolinski scored his eighth of the season seemingly deflating the Sabres hopes of a comeback but Ales Kotalik's marker at 11:30 of the third robbed Carey Price of his 2nd consecutive shutout bid.
The Canadiens won this game handily and did it with an air of confidence not seen on a long time, skating like seasoned veterans and trying fancy plays that more times than not made it to the net. They really appeared to be enjoying themselves on the ice.
Points to Ponder:
The three stars for the night? 1- Bryan Smolinski 2- Carey Price 3- Steve Begin. Indicative of the story of the game, Smolinski with 2 goals, Begin hitting everything that moved in a sabres jersey and Price stopping all (but one) of the 28 shots he faced. At least 6 of them, legitimate scoring chances.
Every time I seem to rag on a Montreal player for not pulling his weight, he comes back with the game of his life. You will remember, I stated in an earlier post that I felt it was time Bryan Smolinski hung 'em up... You showed me Bryan! Now, let's see, maybe Guillaume Latendresse should hang em up too...Stay tuned.
Michael Ryder was scratched from tonight's game and replaced by Hamilton Bulldog Matt D'agostini. Officially, Ryder is listed as having a leg injury. Unofficially, he's probably sitting out for being a pain in Carbo's lower body area after having taken two offensive zone penalties during the Ottawa game.
The Habs now have 102 points, the first time since 1992-93, the season they won their 24th Stanley Cup.
One game left for the Habs this Saturday against the Toronto Mapleleafs and with a win, they put the pressure on the Penguins to win their final game against the Flyers on Sunday.