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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Nailbiter Towards the Playoffs


That's what I said after last night's game which saw the Habs score a 2-1 OT victory against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. You'd think normally a 1-1 game would be snooze-fest. Not this time. End to end action. Both goaltenders on fire. Lots of speed. Some good hitting. Maybe some questionable calls... but most importantly, the end result the team and Habs fans alike were hoping for.

With the win, the Canadiens punch their ticket into the postseason and win their final home game of the year. Nice to do it with a victory instead of backing into the "real season" like last year. Carey Price stamped his name into the Canadiens' long record book with his 71st start of the season. And in my opinion, last night showed how Price can actually ramp his game up a notch... something Jaro Halak was able to do in last year's playoffs. This is crucial to the team to have any chance of postseason success.

Last night felt like a playoff game -- both teams desperately wanted to win. The Habs had a lot of jump right from the getgo but Corey Crawford, the Montreal-native making his first ever start in Montreal for the Hawks, was up to the challenge. He literally stole the 1st period from the Habs, stoning Gomez, Gionta, Cammellari and Kostitsyn on multiple occasions.

The Gomez line had a lot of jump but it was Plekanec's line that were really flying. Lots of energy was brought to the ice by these players. Good to see. Then the Habs took a few penalties but showed they weren't about to get unravelled and killed them off early in the second frame.

Finally, Kostitsyn made a superb pass from behind the net into the high slot where Cammellari saw his wrister deflect off of Brent Seabrooke past a helpless Crawford to give the Habs a 1-0 lead.


But it didn't last long. The ever-dangerous and sneaky Patrick Kane deeked Darche out of his pants at the Habs blueline and sent a nice hard wrist shot through traffic and just inside the post to beat a surprised Price 1-1.

The 3rd period was probably some of the most entertaining hockey I've seen all year from the Habs.

Great speed, great saves, desperation on both sides, lots of scoring chances and some key defensive plays -- like PK Subban breaking up a 3-on-1.

With less than 10 minutes remaining while the Habs were on the powerplay and threatening, Crawford made a great glove save off of Cammellari. A moment later, the Hawks were on a 2-on-1 and Price made a terrific, game saving lateral save. Then the Hawks got a powerplay late but couldn't get it past Price -- who looked super-focused on the job at hand. He probably didn't want Crawford to come into his building and beat him.

The Hawks outshot the Habs after the 1st period, but only got that one past Price.

It was a nailbiter. I was happy for the point in the least, but we all wanted what the team wanted, which was to clinch their playoff berth with this game. They didn't dissappoint.

In OT, the always dangerous Toews (why isn't he in the Hart trophy discussion?) tried a very sneaky play by quickly slew-footing Subban into the boards. It was so hard to see because Toews brought his stick up so fast that it looked like he never even touched PK's skate. But he did, and the ref called it -- and rightly so. Obviously Hawks coach Joel Quenneville wasn't pleased, but he can blame his captain for that one.

33 seconds later, Subban beat Crawford with a perfect one-timer set up by who else but Andrei Kostitsyn, who is rounding out his game to become a passer-extraordinaire. 2 great passes, 2 points for Kostitsyn last night.

Jacques Martin showed his approval with some rare smiles after the game in an interview with RDS. Must have been a great relief for him and his staff. Great job Jacques!! When you consider all the drama at the start of the year with the goaltending, all of the season-ending injuries, the scoring droughts by the team's top players and the persistent line-juggling, the fact this team is in the playoffs is quite the accomplishment. Martin should be praised, not blamed.

This is a team that is getting better year to year. What more can we ask for??? Habs are in the playoffs. Good. Now they end the season on the road with games in Ottawa on Thursday, then Toronto on Saturday. I'll be at the game here in Toronto and will post some pictures. Hopefully the Habs maintain their current 6th spot. But whoever faces the Sabres, watch out!!

Speaking of Toronto, they were finally put out of their misery last night when Buffalo won their game against Tampa Bay. Nice try Maple Leafs, you at least made it somewhat exciting for your fans. But once again, it's wait until next year for LeafLand.

With the win, the Habs remain in 6th place in the Eastern Conference, one point up on Buffalo and 2 on the Rangers. 6th place and a showdown with the Bruins in the 1st round is in the balance. Last thing we want is to finish 7th and play the Flyers, who lost again last night. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad come to think of it -- I think Philly peaked too early and their goaltending is not as good as it looked 6 weeks ago. And isn't Crissy Pronger hurt???

And what can be said of the defending cup champs??? Dallas won last night, so now they're only 2 points back. And Troy Brouwer didn't finish the game, or his check on Lars Eller -- causing him to land awkwardly at the foot of the boards. He was down for a bit but eventually left on his own. But chances are he's got a separated shoulder or something not good. The Hawks, they're having trouble scoring goals. They need Patrick Sharp back right away before it's too late. But wouldn't it be great if they finished in 8th and played the Canucks in the 1st round??? I'd love to see that one...

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