The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-1 last night in their final game of the season.
In recent seasons the Canadiens have frequently finished the year against the Leafs. Last year, for those with short memories, Montreal needed a "loser" point against the Leafs in overtime to qualify for the playoffs in their final game.
This year, however, the Habs had different plans.
From the opening drop of the puck Montreal came ready to play. Ryan White got the party started only 2:29 in, scoring his second of the season off a Lars Eller pass. It was a bit of a softie and allowed Montreal to grab the momentum and run with it.
Brian Gionta made it 2-0 on the power play less than four minutes later, firing a Scott Gomez pass top shelf on James Reimer.
Next it was Carey Price's turn to let in a softie, allowing Phil Kessel's shot to slip through his five-hole.
This marked Price's 72nd start this season, notching a career-high 38th win.
Montreal once again got themselves into penalty trouble—Benoit Pouliot led the way with minors for tripping and then hooking—helping the Leafs mount some second period push back.
Ultimately, Price made several spectacular saves during the second period to quash any thoughts of a Leafs comeback.
Montreal got another PP marker from Gionta in the second period, before Tomas Plekanec closed out the win with a shorthanded marker in the third.
And just like that, the regular season is over and Montreal's first round date with the Bruins kicks off on Thursday.
Considering everything that has happened to the Habs this year, it was nice to see them end the season with a solid performance.
For the Leafs, while their streak of playoff futility now extends to six seasons—they last made the playoffs in 2003-2004—this is a team that is turning a corner.
They showed over their last 15 games or so that they have skill and some nice building blocks in their lineup. With a few tweaks, this team should be able to turn things around in the not-so-distant future.
Final score: Habs 4 - Leafs 1
Habs scorers: Ryan White (2), Brian Gionta (28, 29), Tomas Plekanec (22)
Leafs scorers: Phil Kessel (32)
Three stars: 1. Brian Gionta, 2. Phil Kessel, 3. Carey Price
White brings skill and toughness
Ryan White, who has been quiet in recent weeks, reminded us last night what an important player he can be for the Montreal Canadiens.
Playing on a line with Lars Eller and Tom Pyatt, White opened the scoring only 2:29 into the game on a great feed from Eller. It was a good shot but without a screen or a tip, it was one that Leafs' goalie James Reimer would certainly like to have back.
Only minutes later, White nailed Leafs defenseman Carl Gunnarsson with a clean, open-ice hit, drawing the ire of tough guy Mike Brown. Without even a moment’s hesitation, White dropped the gloves and accepted the challenge.
Brown got the better of White, but what is important is White's willingness to answer the bell, even for a clean hit.
While fighting is not a skill that will necessarily make the Canadiens a better team, they can always use more toughness. And White brings an added dimension of toughness, skill, and speed to the bottom-six.
He is the type of player who can become critical to winning tight games and series in the playoffs. We'll find out starting this week if he's ready to fill that role for Montreal.
Andrei Kostitsyn the playmaker
AK46 had a rough first half of the 2010-2011 NHL season. However, since being paired with Lars Eller around the mid-point of the year, he seems to have come into his own.
So much so, that he has found his way back onto the top line with Michael Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec in recent games.
While he isn't necessarily racking up the goals at a torrid pace—he finished the season with 20—he seems to play well every night and has become an effective player in all three zones.
The biggest change in his game, however, is that he seems to have found a play-maker's touch.
Whereas Kostitsyn has always been a player who gets more goals than assist, that's more a reflection of his lack of passing than tremendous goal-scoring prowess.
However this season, Kostitsyn finished the year with 45 points (20G, 25A).
Last night, despite not showing up on the scoresheet, Kostitsyn made some excellent passing plays.
At around the 10-minute mark of the first with the Canadiens pressing, Kostitsyn skated the puck to the left of the Leafs' net, drawing the Toronto defender in his direction. The play opened a shooting lane for Subban, who took a sweet, no-look, backhand pass from AK46 and fired it on Reimer.
Subban didn't score, but the play demonstrates Kostitsyn's sudden excellent on-ice vision.
Along with his plus-three and 140 hits—tops on the team—Andrei Kostitsyn had become an important part of the Canadiens lineup. Kostitsyn's playoff performance will be key but if he can bring the same consistency he has since January, he will have earned himself a new contract in the off season.
I would ask when the Habs are planning on fixing their patent lack of discipline, but considering their regular season ended last night, I'll pass.
Being a highly penalized team—Montreal has handed the opposition a league worst 327 power play opportunities this season—would make you think, at least on paper, that they are a robust, in-your-face team.
Unfortunately for Habs' fans, they are quite the opposite.
Most of their penalties are of the tripping, slashing and hooking variety. Lazy, undisciplined penalties that drive coaches crazy and can give games away.
While P.K. Subban leads the team with 124 penalties, Benoit Pouliot is the biggest culprits of the bad ones.
Last night, with the Habs leading 2-0, that trend continued.
Phil Kessel scored a softie on Price 13:13 into the first and only 40 seconds later, Pouliot tripped Dion Phaneuf, sending Toronto to the power play. While the Leafs didn't score, it did hand them the momentum for a good five minutes.
The biggest problem is that we have seen that exact play from Pouliot far too often this season.
Not to be outdone, Eller then took a hooking penalty only 18 seconds after the Canadiens had made the score 3-1, in the second. He lost his one-on-one battle in the corner and simply hooked Joffrey Lupul rather than skating after him.
Montreal will have enough challenges winning in the playoffs and they don't need to make life harder for themselves. If they want to have any hope of doing well in the post-season, they must get this aspect of their game under control.
The problem is that after 82 games if this is still an issue I don't see it changing.
Michael Cammalleri and Brian Gionta look ready
And that's the season folks. It's over. Time for the playoffs.
The good news for Montreal is their two top goal-scorers look ready for the post-season.
I discussed Cammalleri's improved play after the Habs 3-2 overtime loss to the Sens, and, last night, it continued. Cammalleri was once again all over the ice, shooting from everywhere and creating a ton of quality scoring chances.
He finished the night with four shots on net and now has 28 over the last six games, is an average of 4.66 shots per game.
Cammalleri has six points (3G, 3A) over the same six games.
Brian Gionta, who scored his 28th and 29th goals of the season last night, has snapped out of an eight game goalless streak in grand form.
Over the last four games, Gionta has five points (3G, 2A). In addition, he finished the season as the Habs top goal-scorer (29).
These two players are the heart and soul of the Canadiens offense and their resurgences could not have come at a better time. Without them, Montreal has little chance of beating any team when the post-season starts this week.
Standings and Next Game
The win closes out the Montreal Canadiens 2010-2011 season with 96 points and a 44-30-8 record, good for sixth overall in the Eastern Conference.
With the Flyers beating the Islanders 7-4, the Eastern Conference standings are locked up, putting the Habs and Bruins on a first-round collision course.
Game one will be on Thursday, April 14, in Boston in what is sure to be an outstanding series!
The schedule is set and The Franchise and HabsAddict.com are throwing a playoff party.
We want you and four of your friend to join us for free food, some drinks and a ton of giveaways!
The party will be for Game Two of the Habs-Bruins series, on Saturday April 16, 2011 and we will be giving away Impact tickets, golf packages and much more.
Many of the Team 990 staff will be attending so enter the contest here and come join us on Saturday.
Everyone is welcome, so even if you don't win the prize pack come out and join us!
You never know who you'll meet and what prizes you'll win!
Kamal is a freelance Habs writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com and Habs writer on TheFranchise.ca. Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on The Team 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 8 - 9 AM. Listen live at http://www.team990.com/
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