This was supposed to be easy. 1:20 into the game it looked like it was going to be very easy. Thomas Plekanec scored his 20th goal of the season on a breakaway after two perfect passes from Andrei Kostitsyn and Andrei Markov.
With the 30th place team in the league visiting, this was the type of game that Bell Centre fans expected. Cue the rout!
But wait a minute. 1:02 (to be precise) after the Canadiens goal, Robert Nilsson scored for Edmonton with Glen Metropolit failing to backcheck. The shot seemed to surprise Jaroslav Halak. It was a soft goal to be sure, and not the last one of the night.
Just over a minute later, on the power-play, Sam Gagner popped another one in over Halak's shoulder, and the Oilers led 2-to-1. The game was not even four minutes old and Edmonton had scored two goals on three shots. Halak was deep in the net and down early on both.
Brian Gionta tied the score halfway through the first. A sloppily-played period ended with the teams tied 2-to-2.
The Canadiens would take the lead twice more in regulation time only to have the Oilers tie it up on two more weak goals.
At times this game resembled the Bizarro World.
Oilers goalie Devan Dubnyk had a record of 0-7-1 coming into the game, but it was Halak who looked like he hadn't won a game this season.
Similarly, the second ranked Canadiens' power-play couldn't dent the Oilers number 28 ranked penalty killing unit on seven opportunities, including 4-on-3 and 5-on-3 chances. Yet, Edmonton notched a power-play goal on only three opportunities.
The Habs spread the scoring through the lineup with eight different players getting points. Sergei Kostitsyn and Andrei Markov each had two points. The younger Kostitsyn had a very strong game and was named the night's first star.
Andrei Kostitsyn scored the winner with the only goal in the shootout. Halak stopped all five shots he faced.
“I was pretty confident going into the shootout but it’s all about luck, I think, in the shootout,” Halak said. “It’s 50-50 percent to the guy scoring or me stopping the puck. Lucky for us we scored the goal and [Sam Gagner] mishandled the last one.”
Coach Jacques Martin gave credit to the skaters saying, "The team found a way to win despite Halak letting in soft goals."
More bizarre behaviour continued after the game.
Halak's agent Alan Walsh was first out of the gate, "The mark of a great goalie is being able to comeback after letting in a few goals you'd like back and shutting the door the rest of the way."
"Shutting the door" included a combination of saves, posts, and erratic shooting by the Oilers.
Conor McKenna from the Team 990 said, "Jaro Halak is 15 of 16 in shootouts this year...unreal." McKenna explained Halak's poor performance for the three periods plus overtime by saying "He's not at his best unless he sees [more than] 35 shots."
The first few comments to Montreal sports talk radio were to shred Carey Price despite Halak having one of his worst games of the year, and Price sitting on a stool as the backup.
"Give Halak credit, he did a great job. Face it, he won the game," said one delusional caller. Even those who hadn't seen the game were ready to advocate for Halak starting on Saturday night against Boston.
This advice flies in the face of Halak's rough outing and ignores Price's record vs the Bruins which is 3-0-0 with a 0.97 goals against average and a .971 save percentage.
This game was also one of the most obvious examples of why 'win and you're in' is not a reliable strategy.
While some would prefer there wasn't a goalie controversy, it is obvious which side is perpetuating it. It is also clear that a double standard is rampant among fans and media alike for evaluating the play of the two young goaltenders.
The Canadiens move into a sixth place tie with the Philadelphia Flyers with 74 points, although the Flyers have three games in hand.
Rocket's three stars
1. Sergei Kostitsyn
2. Shawn Horcoff
3. Andrei Markov
special mention: Tomas Plekanec, Ryan O'Byrne, Andrei Kostitsyn
Player quotes from wire services were used in this report.
(photo credit: CP)
Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images