On this the first day of April with five games left in the NHL season and the Montreal Canadiens holding only what can be best described as a tenuous grip on the eighth and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference, the time for excuses is over. The team, somehow, has to gather its forces (whatever they may be), find some character and win their remaining games.
This is no April Fools joke. The Canadiens lost a "must win" game at home to a team below them in the standings. That is unacceptable at this time of year for a team fighting for a place in the playoffs. Their play was fairly strong during the first two periods, but their lack of effort during the third period left me scratching my head.
During the first two periods the home side had a big shot advantage (25-10) and scoring chances advantage (13-2), but did not cash in on those chances and it came back to bite them in their collective butts.
It started off well with Montreal coming out skating hard and creating some chances. Luck was even on their side when referee Dean Morton disallowed an early goal by Carolina's Sergei Samsonov into an empty net due to the fact that he called a goaltender interference penalty on former Hab Tom Kostopoulos. It was a borderline call as I think even if Kostopoulos hadn't have run over Price he wouldn't have stopped Samsonov's shot anyway. But they say that you have to be lucky to be good.
Montreal took advantage of having a short 5-on-3 and though they did not score on it they did on what remained in the second penalty. Scott Gomez demonstrated his vision and passing prowess by finding Marc-André Bergeron alone in the high slot. Bergeron did what he does best and rifled the shot passed Cam Ward. The crowd was happy and it felt almost as if a romp was on.
They couldn't have been more wrong. Carolina, despite being outplayed, hung in there and even managed to tie the score when Brandon Sutter notched his 20th of the season on a lucky goal. He had a partial break in on Price, who stopped his initial shot, but the puck got past him courtesy of a sliding Roman Hamrlik. Hamrlik pushed the rebound past Price just before he knocked the net of its moorings.
The game was tied 1-1 going into the 3rd period (mostly due to the stellar play of Hurricane's goaltender, Cam Ward) because Montreal once again could not score 5-on-5. That is not because they did not have chances as both Brian Gionta and Andrei Kostitsyn were stopped by Ward on breakaways. Granted they were glorious saves, but this team has to learn how to bury those. No matter who is in nets at the other end of the ice.
Once Eric Staal scored off of a rebound early in the 3rd period it was like all the air had gone out of the Montreal tires. A team that had very recently been dominating the game was now being dominated. Carolina outshot the Habs 17-10 in the 3rd and only Price making some good saves kept the game as close as it was.
The frail confidence of the Canadiens was on full display in the 3rd period. After the Staal goal put Carolina ahead 2-1 it was like the Habs gave up. They fumbled the puck, overskated it, missed passes, and could not hit the net if their lives depended on it. It was hard to watch. They played awful and the crowd let them have it, braying down boos from every corner of the rafters.
You certainly cannot pin this loss on Carey Price. While he was relatively unbusy in the first two periods with only 10 shots, he earned his keep in the 3rd. He was even very classy in the fact that despite his team had let him down once again and he absorbed the loss, Price came out to acknowledge the crowd when he was selected the 3rd star of the game. Unfortunately, some goofballs in the crowd saw fit to boo the poor guy. How could they blame him for the loss? His team scored one goal!! Idiots!
-On-Ice Officials: Referees: Kerry Fraser (last game in Montreal), Dean Morton
Linesmen: Steve Barton, Mark Pare (last game in Montreal)
-Goals: 1st Period:
8:04 – Montreal – (pp) Marc-André Bergeron assisted by Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta
3:44 – Carolina – Brandon Sutter assisted by Chad Larose and Jussi Jokinen
2:55 – Carolina – Eric Staal assisted by Eric Cole and Ray Whitney
-Shots on Goal: Montreal: 35
-3 Stars: 1) Cam Ward – Carolina
2) Brandon Sutter – Carolina
3) Carey Price – Montreal
-Final Score: Montreal: 1