Montreal 4 Edmonton 3 OT (Bell Centre)
posted by Rocket
Did the Canadiens look like a different team tonight? Certainly most of the Bell Centre fans thought so. It was an exciting game with a playoff atmosphere at times.
The Habs played like an abused dog who is finally released from its shackles (not too far from the truth). The first period, they came out flying, full of energy and life. They took a nap in the second, and were ready to play hard again in the third.
The 'Gainey effect' was quickly apparent: shorter shifts, quick outs, and players using the boards. As the game went on, rather than the repetitive rolling of four lines, we were treated to smart deployment of personnel.
Gainey agrees with what has been said on this page many times. The Canadiens have been spending too much time in their own zone. Being more aggressive, pressuring the Oiler puck carrier was effective in the first.
Saku Koivu described it this way, "We played more with the puck. We're learning to trust each other."
Alex Tanguay gave the Canadiens a 1-0 lead after he buried the rebound of a Mathieu Schneider point shot. Given his long injury absence, it was Tanguay's first goal since December 20th.
Carey Price made four great saves in the first period alone. The Habs took a one goal lead to the dressing room after the first.
Edmonton scored three times in the second period outshooting the Habs 17-2. A Josh Gorges stumble allowed Andrew Cogliano to go around him easily for the first goal. The second Oiler goal was scored by Sheldon Souray after his shot deflected off Tomas Plekanec's foot.
Two goals, one for each team, near the end of the second period made the score 3-2 Edmonton.
Koivu said "I thought that we played a really strong first period but then really lost our legs in the second and they took over." He added "We had a good intermission and talked about settling things down."
Gainey felt that the players' timing was off in the second period. He said, "We just weren't in synch with each other and the play on the ice." Gainey simply told his team to focus on making better changes to allow them to get into the play in better position. And it worked!
The Canadiens dominated for most of the third period. Koivu scored the tying goal as he knocked in a puck fed by Andrei Kostitsyn. The play was started by a great pass from Roman Hamrlik to Tanguay.
Price made several huge saves as the period ended with frantic action at both ends.
In overtime, Patrick O'Sullivan was assessed a penalty for slashing Andrei Markov. After going zero for its last 15 power-play opportunities, Koivu tipped a Schneider point shot for the winning goal.
It was a big night for Koivu who led the Canadiens with both the tying and winning goal. Koivu won 73 percent of his faceoffs. Tanguay had a goal and an assist. Schneider had two assists and was much less exposed playing with Gorges as the third defense pair.
Price had another solid game with several spectacular saves to keep his team in it.
The penalty killing forwards looked a little different: Higgins and Lapierre followed by Dandenault and Metropolis. Both units including the defense played very well. The Oiler power-play was 0-for-3. Higgins also had six shots on goal.
Dandenault had one of his best games of the season. He is one of many players who is thrilled that Carbo is gone. He really likes & respects Gainey.
This is still a very fragile Canadiens team after being mishandled for most of the season. Gainey will build team confidence by encouraging them to make the pass that is available. He wants to see players start to trust each other. Gainey feels that confidence will improve execution over time.
Koivu agreed, "You're not going to see all the changes and everything happen in one game or one period and we have to be patient."
It will take some time for Gainey to repair the damage to the team's psyche caused by the previous coach. Tonight's game was a step in the right direction and it showed that the players are fully on board.
Starting lineup: Lapierre, Higgins, Kostopoulos, Markov, Komisarek
Carey Price and Dwayne Roloson started in goal.
New assistant coach Don Lever was upstairs for part of the game. He came down in the third period to join Gainey, Jarvis and Muller behind the bench.
Brisebois and Pacioretty were scratched from the line-up. Laraque, Bouillon, Latendresse, and Lang were out with injuries.
Rocket's three stars
1. Saku Koivu
2. Carey Price
3. Sheldon Souray