The Montreal Canadiens had to play some big games this season but none was as big as this one. The team was coming off one of their best road wins of the season but they hadn’t won two in a row since beating Boston on March 8th, a game that saw Max Pacioretty being carried off the ice on a stretcher. Some might argue that injury to Pacioretty shook up his teammates but then at this level, we all have to soldier on. When you become a professional athlete at the highest sporting level, you must be tough, not only physically but also mentally. Everyone was hoping to see the Habs continue where they left off on Saturday night in the Garden state.
This was also the last home game of the regular season before the team heads on the road to face the Ottawa Senators and the now eliminated Toronto Maple Leafs. The fans were keeping their fingers crossed and prayed that the players understand the importance of these two points that would push them into the playoffs, two points which would assure everybody that they don’t have to wait till the final game of the season to see if the Habs move on to the next season of hockey. These two points were needed more than any other two points during the season as all of the teams behind the Habs kept winning their matches.
Mind you, no one expected this to be a walk in the park, afterall, they were receiving a visit from the Stanley Cup Champions, the Chicago Blackhawks, a team which is battling to make the playoffs themselves, a team that needed these two points more than the Habs. The Hawks knew they were coming into a tough building, where they had won only three of their previous 11 encounters. Their last visit to this hockey Mecca was on March 31, 2009, a game they lost 4-1. What made the Hawks even more dangerous was that they were just coming off a shutout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, a game they completely dominated, fighting for the eighth and final spot in the Western conference.
The Bell center crowd, privileged to witness some playoffs type hockey, was electrifying all night long. They had to wait till the overtime to see the home team emerge as winners when the young and rising star P.K. Subban beat Corey Crawford with a booming shot from the left circle while his team was enjoying a 4-3 man-advantage. The rookie sensation then rushed towards his goalie to celebrate this victory appreciating his 42 save performance. "I was just happy to be able to score there," Subban said. "I took some penalties so I just tried to make up for it. It was a great team effort."
Both, Carey Price and Crawford were sensational all night long making some big and spectacular saves to keep their teams in the match. Price was in the nets for his 71st start of the season, breaking the previous record of 70 games by Gerry McNeil and Jacques Plante. The Blackhawks started the game with some aggressive fore-checking putting the Canadiens on their heels. The game was flowing at a fast pace and the home team finally settled down taking over the first period.
But we had to wait till the 6:55 mark of the second period, when Michael Cammalleri extended his point streak to four games, beating Crawford with a perfect shot in the top corner. Andrei Kostitsyn, who ended the night with two assists found Cammalleri alone in the slot. In spite of a struggling season, this was the sixth time Cammalleri opened the scoring for his team, matching his numbers from last season. He was a threat all night playing on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Kostitsyn. The Hawks didn’t take long to tie the game when Patrick Kane danced his way through the Canadiens’ zone, slipping the puck between Mathieu Darche’s skates before beating Price on the stick side with a shot very similar to the first goal. It was also the 300th career point for Kane.
Besides these two blemishes, both goaltenders played a perfect game for their respective teams. Crawford had to be sharp in the first period making good saves on Scott Gomez, alone in the slot and then on a backhand shot by Brian Gionta from close range. Later in the second, Crawford made another good save on Kostitsyn during a short Montreal power play and was brilliant making a glove save from the stick of Subban. He kept the game tied with another big save on Cammalleri from the slot.
At the other end, Price was equally brilliant making many big saves, with the most spectacular save coming on Marian Hossa with less than seven minutes remaining in the third. Montreal kept playing with fire all night, handing the second best power-play in the league five opportunities but their penalty-killing unit was superb, Hal Gill in particular was huge in front of Price. While Kostitsyn was in the sin-bin, Hossa took a swat at a bouncing puck but Price was quick with his glove hand to pull the puck out. The play required a video review and the on-ice call stood as the crowd erupted in joy. Price later made another big save on a close tip-in by Bryan Bickell.
Mid-way through the third, during a penalty to Tomas Kopecky, the crowd was on their feet as both the goalies made huge saves. Crawford made a huge glove save on Cammalleri who was parked in the slot. Moments later, the Chicago net-minder, once again showed his flashy glove hand when he stopped a blast by Subban. James Wisniewski fumbled the puck on the blue line allowing a 2 on 1 rush. Jake Dowell made a perfect pass to Ryan Johnson only to see Price moving across at a lightning speed to stop the puck. The play shifted to Chicago's zone and Crawford showed his quickness by stopping a deflection by Captain Gionta.
Even though, the Canadiens are assured of a playoff spot, they will need to play with the same intensity if they want to finish in the sixth spot. They will be facing two teams that are already out of the playoffs contention, but both of those teams are in a rebuilding phase for the next season and will not be easy opponents. Price, most likely, will be rested for one of the remaining two games while Montreal fans can breathe easy.
HiD Three Stars
- Carey Price
- P.K. Subban
- Corey Crawford
HiD Turning Point
Price stood tall with 42 saves including 20 saves in the third period.