Montreal Canadiens vs. Tampa Bay Lightning @ Bell Centre – January 7, 2012

Tampa and Montreal are both in the midst (half way to be precise) of disappointing seasons.  Tampa made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals last season and Montreal took the eventual Stanley Cup winners Boston to overtime in game 7 of their series.  Both look like decent teams on paper, but it has not gone that way so far this season.  Tampa’s problem has been a defensive one.  Their goaltending, especially number one netminder 41-year-old Dwayne Roloson, and defense have been weak.  Eight times (the most in the NHL) the starting goaltender has had to be pulled.  Montreal has never had to do it.  The Lightning has the worst goaltending in the league with a 3.31 goals-against average and a .891 save percentage.  Montreal was coming off a big win against the Winnipeg Jets that saw Lars Eller score and amazing 4 goals.  They would be trying to it two in a row for the first time in a long time.

Brian Gionta was back in the lineup.  Gionta missed 11 games with injury.  He didn’t look 100%, but must have been inspiring for rest of team to have captain back.  Number 21 played on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Michael Cammalleri.  Coach Randy Cunneyworth once again dressed 7 defensemen and 11 forwards.  Petteri Noikalainen and Yannick Weber were healthy scratches.  Noikalainen was the forward who played the least last game, so that is not exactly a surprise.  The Habs were happy that Alexei Emelin was good to go as he was hit in the face with a Weber shot in practice on Friday.  He played the game with a full facemask.  Tampa’s Martin St. Louis was also wearing a full facemask as well.  He recently missed five games due to facial and nasal fractures after getting a shot in the face.

Right prior to the game there was a nice ceremonial puck drop at the approach of the 40th anniversary of the Summit Series that saw Team Canada take on Team Soviet Union in 1972.  Three players from the series – Russia’s Vladislav Tretiak (who got the biggest standing ovation) and Canada’s Yvan Cournoyer and Paul Henderson, who was wearing the jersey he wore to score the game-winning overtime goal in game 8 – were on hand to drop the puck.

This game saw Carey Price face off against former Hab Mathieu Garon.  Garon had a 2-2 record versus Montreal in his career.  He is one of many ex-Habs on the Lightning.  The list is a long one with Dominic Moore, Marc-André Bergeron, Tom Pyatt, and Brett Clark all having previously spent time in a Montreal uniform.  Even Tampa coach, Guy Boucher, has ties as he coached the Hamilton Bull Dogs, the Montreal Canadiens’ farm team.  Plus there are several Quebec natives on the Tampa roster like St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, Pierre-Cedric Labrie, and Bruno Gervais, so there are a lot of players on Tampa who want to do well in Montreal.

At the beginning of the game I wondered to myself why Cunneyworth did not start the Eller line?  It would have been sure to get the crowd going and bring energy to the game.  Oh well, I guess I shouldn’t second guess the coach of the winning side.

For the 5th game in row at the Bell Centre the Canadiens gave up the first goal of the game.  It was a lucky or unlucky one (depending which team you cheer for) with the puck bouncing off the leg of Lecavalier who was battling in front of Price with Emelin.  As (bad) luck would have it the puck deflected past Price into the net.  The thing that fans and the Habs themselves should keep in mind was the fact that Tampa is second worst in the NHL in the 1st period.  Their goals for-goals against differential is -15.  In other words giving up one goal in the 1st period against Tampa does not mean that was all she wrote.

But it was the only scoring in the 1st period.  Around the 16 minute mark Travis Moen hit the post after a nice tic-tac-toe passing play.  That was as close as Montreal would come in the 1st as they were successful getting the puck in deep behind the Tampa defense, but were having trouble winning the puck on the forecheck.

Just before the 2 minute mark of the 2nd fans thought the team had tied it up when Plekanec backhanded a shot past Garon.  Unfortunately the ref had already blown the whistle and called the goal off immediately.  He had blown the whistle as soon as Plekanec touched the puck as he was giving him a high sticking penalty.  No matter.  Montreal killed off the penalty and then scored a legit goal.  Bruising winger Michael Blunden scored his first goal as a Montreal Canadiens and his first of the season.  It was a goal that I’m sure Garon would like to have back as it was a weak backhander that somehow slipped between his arm and body then dribbled over the goal line.

Right after the Habs’ first goal there was more intensity in the game.  Big hits by Andrei Kostitsyn and Erik Cole (on St. Louis) riled up the players and crowd.  Under 2 minutes later Montreal struck again and it was a big goal for two reasons.  Number one was that it put Montreal up and ended up being the winner and two, it was scored by Max Pacioretty.  Pacioretty was going through a long goal drought as he hadn’t scored in almost a month.  Just before the goal was probably the turning point of the game.  Carey Price made a big save on St. Louis after he got behind the Canadiens’ defense.  PK Subban collected the rebound and found a streaking Pacioretty.  He had his own turn going in on the opposing goalie alone.  Pacioretty ripped a wrist shot low on the blocker side past Garon.  Then came a look of happiness mixed with relief on his face.  Big gorilla off the power forward’s back.

After Montreal had scored two goals in 1:33, Guy Boucher called a time out.  It seemed to have backfired as Montreal scored just over a minute later, but it became the second disallowed goal for the bleu-blanc-rouge.  It was the right call as Eller had clearly directed the puck past Garon with his skate.  Montreal benefited from a called off goal late in the 2nd period when Tampa got one past Price, but it was after the period-ending siren had gone off.  Refs were busy.

Montreal got off to a slow start, but picked it up in the 2nd and 3rd periods.  They were going to the front of the Tampa net and throwing pucks on net more.  In the 3rd period Montreal continued their strong play.  Kostitsyn had a great chance in the 1st minute of play in the 3rd period.  Gionta had a partial break coming off the bench 2 minutes later.  His shot just missed hitting the outside of the net.  Emelin continued his strong physical play dishing out a couple of stiff body checks to Ryan Malone on the same shift.  Malone wanted to fight Emelin, but he just walked away.  Smart.

Boucher in 3rd has put Lecavalier-St.Louis-Stamkos together on a line.  All his offensive eggs in one basket. The Eller-Moen-Andrei Kostitsyn line had another good night even though they did not get a goal.  It was Eller’s line that was matched up against the Lecavalier-Steven Stamkos (who was pretty much invisible all game)-St. Louis line in the 3rd period.  Cunneyworth certainly has some confidence in the line and their ability to be responsible defensively.  His confidence was not misplaced as they shut down this very talented offensive line.

With 1:03 left in game Boucher pulled Garon.  Montreal iced the puck twice soon after that.  David Desharnais had to take both face offs and did a good job on both.  Montreal handled Tampa’s push to score the tying goal and even forced the Lightening into a penalty.  Bergeron had to hook down Pacioretty or it would have been a sure goal with the net empty.  On the ensuing power play the red hot Erik Cole scored his 17th of the season with assists going to Pacioretty and Desharnais.

Two wins in a row!  Start planning the Stanley Cup parade!  Seriously though it was a good sign because two games in a row Montreal defeated teams they should have.  They did not play down to the Jets or Lightning’s level.  They turned in full 60 minute efforts.  What was especially impressive about this victory was how they performed defensively.  Not really giving Tampa much of a sniff at Price.

Montreal’s next game is Tuesday night against the St. Louis Blues.  It should be an interesting one as it is former Habs netminder Jaroslav Halak’s first game back in Montreal after he was traded last off season for Lars Eller.  Should be a battle between Halak, Price and Eller to see who tries hardest to prove it was a good or bad trade.

Game Stats:

-On-Ice Officials:  Referees:  Mike Leggo and Brian Pochmara

Linesmen:  Matt MacPherson and Mark Shewchyk

-Goals:  1st Period:

3:24:  Tampa Bay – Vincent Lecavalier assisted by Dominic Moore and Eric Brewer.

2nd Period:

5:44:  Montreal – Michael Blunden assisted by Hal Gill and Mathieu Darche

7:17:  Montreal – Max Pacioretty assisted by PK Subban

3rd Period:

19:43:  Montreal – (pp) Erik Cole assisted by David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty

-Shots on Goal:  Montreal:  28

Tampa Bay:  24

-3 Stars:  1)  Max Pacioretty – Montreal

2)  Carey Price – Montreal

3)  Vincent Lecavalier – Tampa Bay

-Attendance:  21,273

-Final Score:  Montreal:  3

Tampa Bay:  1

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