Montreal 3 Tampa Bay 2 OT (Bell Centre)
As I write, I'm scratching a pre-playoff beard. You know, the early days of facial hair. I figured if I was recommending it for the players (see "Habs Checklist: 10 Things for 10 Games"), I should also make a commitment. Well, the All Habs beard is 2-0 so, for now, it's staying!
The Habs picked up two important points tonight with a big win over the Lightning. Canadiens captain Saku Koivu was the overtime hero with the winning goal.
The Canadiens dominated the Lightning for two full periods. The Habs outshot the Bolts 24-to-8 over two periods but only carried a 1-0 lead into the third period.
Tampa Bay pushed back in the third period and outshot Montreal 11-to-8. The Canadiens were caught running around at times which led to the two Tampa goals. The Lightning were also recipients of a few fortunate bounces.
It was still not the sixty minute win that coach Bob Gainey has been looking for from his players. But for forty minutes, the Canadiens were doing many of the little things right. There have been a number of positive signs the past few games that are starting to show Gainey's influence.
All lines played hard. They were aggressive in their forecheck, and the forwards were committed to coming back strong to help out in their own end. The puck spent very little time in the Canadiens end. It was either carried or chipped out quickly.
After the game Gainey commented "I liked the way we played the game. We were much more stable; much more consistent; and reliable minute by minute throughout the game."
The Canadiens also played a good transition game. They created opportunities from 27 Tampa giveaways.
The leader on the ice was Andrei Markov. He tallied two assists, a team high five shots, and almost thirty minutes of ice-time. As Gainey said "He is an elite player."
Full credit must go to the captain's line. Koivu showed grit and determination to score the game winner. Alex Kovalev picked up a power-play goal on a terrific cross-ice snap pass from Alex Tanguay. Koivu's line now has seven goals in the past two games.
The shutdown line of Glen Metropolit, Chris Higgins and Mathieu Dandenault were very effective. The snipers for Tampa: Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos only had two shots on goal combined. Chris Higgins has embraced his assignment and brought his game to a new level.
Guillaume Latendresse scored an important goal for the Habs in the third period. He took the puck to the net and then followed through on the wraparound. Latendresse excited the crowd with a big hit to Evgeny Artyukhin, who was a thorn in the side of the Canadiens all game long.
Later Latendresse declined when invited to fight Artyukhin. Max Lapierre led the team in hits with six and was eighty percent on faceoffs.
Matt D'Agostini didn't have a good game. One wondered if Max Pacioretty might have been a better fit with Tomas Plekanec and Sergei Kostitsyn.
Both Plekanec and Tanguay had more hits than Mike Komisarek. Komisarek wasn't the only one who didn't have a physical game. Roman Hamrlik. Patrice Brisebois, Mathieu Schneider and Josh Gorges combined for only one hit.
The defense would have benefited from having Ryan O'Byrne in the line-up to add a physical presence. Overall Tampa outhit Montreal 46-to-29.
Komisarek also had three giveaways. On Tampa's first goal, Komisarek had two swipes at the puck but couldn't connect to clear it from the crease. But overall, the defense played much better in coverage and moving the puck out of the defensive zone.
Carey Price had a quiet game. He was called upon to make some big saves in the third period. Price couldn't be faulted on either Tampa goal. One resulted from a goal mouth scramble and the other was a puck that was deflected in front of the net. Price is now 4-0-2 in his last six games.
The Canadiens power-play was only 1-for-8. They had good puck movement but, at times passed on shots, or had trouble getting pucks to the net. Tampa blocked 34 Montreal shots. As Koivu said "The power-play was good but not as effective. We need more shots to the net and traffic. I have to keep reminding those guys (Kovalev and Tanguay) to shoot the puck".
Bob Gainey is slowly getting his team to buy into a new system. For two periods, the Canadiens showed that they can dominate when they use their speed to play a puck possession game. Gainey must continue to build on the positives as the tests start to become more difficult.
Starting lineup: Metropolit, Higgins, Dandenault, Markov, Komisarek
Carey Price and Karri Ramo started in goal.
O'Byrne, Laraque, and Stewart were scratched from the line-up. Andrei Kostitsyn was out with the flu. Bouillon and Lang were on injured reserve.
Rocket's three stars:
1. Andrei Markov
2. Saku Koivu
3. Karri Ramo
(photo credit: CP)