Canadiens' coach Jacques Martin's (right off the bat I have to admit that I do not like him as coach of this team, but that is a whole other discussion) mantra this season in his scintillating (dripping with sarcasm) dealings with the press has been that his team must play hard for 60 minutes to win. Now this is not groundbreaking, but as they are an undersized team who are not going to intimidate others with their size or bone rattling checks this mantra is a good one. The team has to use their skill and speed to control the puck and put pressure on the other team when they have it. In most games this season this rule to live by was true. Such was not the case in the game Saturday night versus the Boston Bruins where they won with only playing 25 minutes of hard hockey.
The Canadiens have been on a good run lately getting 7 out of a possible 8 points over the last 4 games. The Bruins, during the Canadiens horrendous 8 game holiday road trip, had recently pulled into 1st place in the division over the Habs. Going into this game they were 1 point ahead of the bleu-blanc-rouge with one game in hand. So basically this, the 3,000th home game in the Montreal Canadiens storied history and the first game of the second half of the season, was a contest for 1st place in the Northeast Division.
It started out awfully for the home side with Boston taking a 2-0 lead on two goals in the 2nd period by Patrice Bergeron. Not only were they losing at the end of the 2nd period, but they were also being outchanced and outshot (21-19). Basically they were the second best team on the ice by a fairly wide margin. There was no effort and plenty of mental mistakes by the home side. What was even worse was that Michael Cammalleri had to leave the game early in the 2nd period due to the flu and that left them with a rather large offensive hole to fill.
Martin juggled his lines, which he loves to do, and the 3rd period was something completely different. They seemed like a different team with plenty of passion and effort in their game and they were richly rewarded for it. The team and crowd thought they had cut the Bruins lead in half with less than 10 minutes remaining when Mathieu Darche batted a puck out of the air and into the net. After a review though it was deemed that his stick was too high when it made contact with the puck and as such was not a goal. The Habs weren't getting any breaks.
After the Darche goal was disallowed you might not of blamed the Canadiens for packing it in, but they continued the pressure on Boston and it paid off in a big way. At 17:38 of the 3rd period while on the power play with Michael Ryder in the box for tripping they benefited from some luck with an ugly goal to start off the comeback. Scott Gomez was along the left boards and tried to centre a pass to Mathieu Darche out in front of Thomas when the puck struck Zedeno Chara's skate and squirted slowly by a stunned Thomas.
With 1:06 left in the game Martin pulled Carey Price and put on a 6th attacker. Chara tried to ice the win for his side by going for the empty net, but it turned out to be a boneheaded play as he missed and the Canadiens got a faceoff in the Bruins zone. Surprisingly Bruins coach Claude Julien had put his fourth line of Shawn Thorton-Daniel Paille-Gregory Campbell out there for the last minute. It ended up being a bad decision as they lost the faceoff and possession of the puck and Max Pacioretty fed James Wisniewski a pass at the blue line. After a pump fake which caused a Bruin to go down and be out of the play, Wisniewski directed a shot at the net that hit Brian Gionta, a small man not afraid to stand in front of the opposing net, in the skate and redirected beyond Thomas with a mere 48 seconds left in the game. Believe it or not (and many so-called Habs fans did not believe it as a few thousand had left with over 3 minutes left in the game) we were headed for overtime.
Another silly penalty, this time an offensive zone hook on Wisniewski by Blake Wheeler, gave Montreal a power play (4-on-3) in overtime. While they kept the puck in the Bruins end and displayed their ability to string together many tic-tac-toe passes, the Canadiens were largely kept to the outside and did not really get a good scoring chance. Still they did not give up and at 3:43 from a fair distance out Pacioretty wristed a perfectly placed shot that found the right top corner beyond Thomas.
This was not your typical rough and tumble Habs-Bruins contest with only two scuffles in the contest. One was a fight late in the 1st period between Travis Moen (finally bringing some toughness to the team) and Bruins defenceman Adam McQuaid while the other happened after the final whistle when Chara, for reasons known only to him, skated over to the Montreal scrum celebrating the winning goal and got involved with Hal Gill and Scott Gomez. Chara and Gill got misconducts and Montreal got the win.
The overtime hero Max Pacioretty said, "It was probably the biggest goal of my life. That's the best feeling I've ever had in a hockey game." Since his call up from Hamilton not that long ago, Pacioretty has become something of a Bruins killer. In a 4-3 win versus the Bruins just after said call up he notched a goal and had an assist. In six career games against Boston he has 2 goals and three assists. This is the type of output that the team needs from their budding power forward against one of the more physical teams in the league. And it shows that he is not a player who disappears in the physical games.
Another player who impressed me, even though he did not get a star, was centre Scott Gomez. Much maligned this season due to his lack of offensive output he played the most minutes he had all season (22:13) and made things happen when he was on the ice. To demonstrate how he was "in" the game, he even had 4 shots on net when we all know he is a pass first player. Since he has returned from his two game absence due to a leg injury he has been averaging a point a game (2 goals, 12 assists). This is the type of output the team needs from its second line centre.
Surprisingly the Canadiens have owned the Bruins lately with winning 11 of the last 14 games at home and a bunch in a row. With this win they have won all 3 games versus the Bruins so far this season and that means that they have earned at least a season tie (the two teams play 6 games) with their division rivals.
Not willing to do things the easy way this was the fourth consecutive game that went into overtime for the Canadiens. It was, however, the first time this season in which they won a game that they trailed after two periods (previous record of 0-15-1). Bottom line is that this was the first time this season the team has not played 60 minutes and managed to eke out a win. It was a game they did not deserve to win, but somehow did and that is a sign of good character if nothing else.
The Habs next game is an away one on Tuesday evening in New York versus the Rangers.
-On-Ice Officials: Referees: Stephane Auger and Kevin Pollack
Linesmen: Pierre Champoux and Steve Barton
-Goals: 2nd Period:
4:18 – Boston – Patrice Bergeron assisted by Blake Wheeler and Brad Marchand
12:27 – Boston – Patrice Bergeron assisted by Mark Recchi and Zedeno Chara
17:38 – Montreal – (pp) Scott Gomez assisted by Mathieu Darche
19:12 – Montreal – Brian Gionta assisted by James Wisniewski and Max Pacioretty
3:43 – Montreal – Max Pacioretty assisted by PK Subban and Hal Gill
-Shots on Goal: Montreal: 42
-3 Stars: 1) Max Pacioretty – Montreal
2) Tim Thomas – Boston
3) Patrice Bergeron – Boston
-Final Score: Montreal: 3