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A step in the right direction

Coming off of their worst streak of the season the Canadiens looked to right the ship hosting the Atlanta Thrashers at the booth. Before the puck dropped, the Habs honoured veteran referee Bill McCreary as he was refereeing his last game in Montreal. The fans gave him a nice ovation, but you had to wonder how long it would be for those cheers to turn into boos. The Thrashers were the first to go on the attack forcing Carey Price to make a stellar save in the process. Bryan Little made a nice pass from behind the net to a wide open Dustin Byfuglien in front of Price. Price read the play and made the key save to make sure that his teammates had a chance to get their offense going. The close call woke the Habs up as Brian Gionta just missed the far corner with a shot from close range. Continuing to add pressure the Habs forced Ondrej Pavelec to make a couple of saves, one from a Brent Sopel point shot and another from a streaking Scott Gomez.

A few moments later Atlanta received another golden opportunity when Eric Boulton found himself alone in front of price. He took his shot but Price made the big save look easy keeping the game scoreless. The Habs answered back as Michael Cammalleri entered the Thrasher zone on a mini breakaway with Ron Hainsey tailing him. Cammalleri’s recent struggles continued however as he was unable to beat Pavelec with his shot. The Habs continued to apply pressure as Lars Eller tried to bank the puck off of the crowd in front of Pavelec. His plan partially worked as the puck bounced around in the crease but Pavelec was quick to spot it and covered it to get the whistle. At 8:20, the Habs got their first power play of the game when Rob Schremp got called for hooking. Montreal tested Pavelec with multiple shots on this power play and nearly scored towards the end of it when James Wisniewski’s point shot nailed the post.

With the Habs coming close, Atlanta responded when Schremp and Evander Kane tried to beat Price in close. Price continued his brilliance as he stopped the first shot and robbed Kane on the rebound when he overextended his arm and snagged the puck all while falling to his back. Price made one more save on Blake Wheeler before watching his teammates finally score one at the other end. The play started when Roman Hamrlik took a shot on Pavelec. With his teammates crashing the net Hamrlik poked the puck away from Pavelec’s glove in the crease. The puck then bounced off of Jeff Halpern on trickled to the other side of the crease. Hamrlik never abandoned the play and skated around the back of the net so he could tap it in on the other side. The goal was perfect example of what hard work can do for a team as 11 seconds later they scored another. This time Mathieu Darche was the recipient as he beat Pavelec in front after accepting a nice pass from Gomez.

Montreal continued their momentum as they controlled the majority of play for several minutes. At 18:19, Travis Moen and Chris Thorburn decided to have a tilt. The fight was more or less a draw as Moen got the early advantage but Thorburn responded towards the end. After the fight Montreal went back on the attack with Gionta leading the way. The Habs did not score a third goal but their fore-checking allowed them to leave the period with a 2-0 lead.

The second began with a lot of broken plays with both goalies making relatively easy saves. That was until Benoit Pouliot skated his only good shift of the game allowing himself to get two good shots on Pavelec which were stopped. After more broken plays, P.k. Subban and Wheeler forced good saves out of both goalies keeping the score the same. At 7:07, Montreal once again got caught for too many men on the ice, a penalty that they lead the entire league in. On the ensuing power play the Habs did a good job of correcting their mistake as they killed off the penalty not allowing Atlanta to set up in their zone. After the kill Gionta got robbed by Pavelec from close range, but the hard work from his line caused the Thrashers to take a penalty of their own.

With the exception of the first shift, Montreal failed to capitalize on their power play as Atlanta controlled the puck for most of the power play.  Atlanta gave the Habs a second chance when they took another penalty but just like the previous power play the Thrasher controlled the puck for most of the two minutes. After the two failed power plays, both teams exchanged the puck creating odd man rushes. The defense held up on both ends causing the odd man rushes to become a non factor. Atlanta put pressure in Montreal’s zone for the final minutes of the period but once again the defense held the fort and the Habs left for the dressing room with a 2-0 lead.

The Habs were first to attack in the third when Pavelec made a nice toe save on Halpern. Price continued to be sharp at the other end when he made saves on Tobias Enstrom, Thorburn and Schremp respectively. Things started to get a little rough as Atlanta tried to push their weight around in an effort to crawl back into the game. This led to Gomez and Kane taking offsetting minors followed by another set of offsetting minors to Subban and Hainsey.  Moments later with the faceoff in the Habs zone, David Desharnais made a quick pass to Gionta who started to sprint up the ice. Gionta took a shot from his mini break away but Pavelec met him with a save.

At 8:35, Price’s shutout bid got taken away from him when the referees missed a crucial penalty that led to the goal. Entering the Habs zone Boulton’s stick hit Hal Gill in the face as he was pursuing the puck. Gill lost sight of the puck as he was holding his face and Boulton skated past him before feeding the puck to Nik Antropov who put it past Price. Gill went directly to the referees and showed them the cut near his eye lobbying for a penalty and for the goal to be disallowed. After a lengthy conversation the two referees and the two linesmen decided that the goal would count as none of them saw the high stick. This is a perfect example of why the NHL should implement the coach’s challenge. On this particular play the referees would have been able to clearly see on the replay that Boulton’s stick did indeed hit Gill in the face and Price’s shutout would have been preserved.

A few minutes later the referees tried to make up for their non-call when they called a weak penalty on Atlanta.  Montreal had a better power play this time around and almost scored when Wisniewski’s point shot caused a scramble in Pavelec’s crease. Pavelec located the puck and froze it to end the threat. The Habs failed to capitalize on their power play as Paul Mara got called for slashing giving the Thrashers a chance to tie it. Little tried to do his best as he tested Price three time in a row but he was met with a save each time.

After failing to score on their abbreviated power play the Thrashers continued to press looking for the tying goal. With a little more than a minute to go, Pavelec was called to the bench. Andrei Kostitsyn took advantage of this as he scored his 20th of the season from a long range to restore the two goal lead. Atlanta pulled Pavelec again but they were unable to do anything with the extra man giving the Habs a much needed victory. After a quick celebration many of the Habs player’s skated over to McCreary to shake his hand in a show of respect prompting the fans to give him one last standing ovation.

HiD Three Stars

  1. Mathieu Darche
  2. Carey Price
  3. Roman Hamrlik

HiD Turning Point

Price’s key saves in the first period allowed his teammates to get the first goal of the game.

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