On a night where Mark Streit was honoured with the Jacques Beauchamps Trophy for the "Unsung Hero" award and Alex Kovalev with the Molson Cup for Star of the year, it was no coincidence that they figured among the night's three stars in their final game of the regular season, beating the Toronto Mapleleafs 3-1.
The Canadiens didn't waste any time trying to set the tempo when with less than a minute played in the first, Alex Kovalev was left alone in front a f Andrew Raycroft who made an impressive save leaving Kovalev looking to the heavens wondering how he missed his chance. Raycroft was the story of the first period as he also stopped newcomer Greg Stewart on a semi break-away. Carey Price, not to be outdone, also shone as the Habs got into some penalty trouble and had to fend off a 5 on 3 for a minute and a half.
After a great first period and a decent beginning to the second, it was finally a 50 foot wrist shot from Mark Streit that beat Raycroft and the Habs took a 1-0 lead at the 9 minute mark. Christopher Higgins made it 2-0 with a laser through Raycroft's left side for his 26th of the season. This goal prompted coach Paul Maurice to call a time-out in order to remind his team that the season was not quite over yet. The pep talk worked as Mark Bell surprised Carey Price with a zinger of his own at 18:02 and made a game of it just as it seemed the Habs were going to skate away with it.
The Canadiens didn't miss a beat however, and restored their 2 goal lead when Higgins scored his 2nd of the night at the 7:29 mark of the 3rd and although the Leafs made a valiant effort, they were no match for a Canadiens team that was determined to do all they could to try and finish first in the East. The stop of the game was at the 16:00 minute mark when Mark Bell, looking for his 2nd of the game , as well as a much needed spark for his team, let a shot rip that Price had no business saving, but did anyways as he moved laterally in order to position himself in front of the puck. Had the Leafs scored on that play, well, we've seen their perseverance this year, coming from behind and anything would have been possible with 4 minutes left in the game.
The night ended with Bryan McCabe took offence to rookie Greg Stewart's check and slashed him in response. Stewart, who played an inspired 1st career NHL game was neither impressed, nor intimidated by the wily veteran and held his own in the ensuing fight. Stewart was high-fived by teammates and fans alike on his way to the dressing room.
Points to Ponder:
Where was this Stewart kid and how come we have never heard much about him? If tonight's game is an indication, he could very well be another future star with the club for years to come...you heard it here first! The rookie had at least 3 legitimate scoring chances, made minimum 2 smart passes that could have resulted in goals and showed that he could hold his own if he was ever pushed around.
The Habs are now awaiting tomorrow's game between the Flyers and the Penguins to see if they finish the season in 1st or 2nd place overall.
Regardless of the outcome of tomorrow's game, one thing is certain, the Canadiens will meet the Bruins in the 1st round of the playoffs... I can't think they are upset about this at all.
For those hoping for a Capitals-Canadiens match-up,you could forget it, at least not in the first round, since the Capitals clinched their division this evening and soared to third place in the East. Carolina,in turn, has been knocked out of playoff contention.
Stay tuned for the final playoff match-ups as well as my predictions for the 1st round.