Why do the Habs do this to us? Why do they let us get resigned to the inevitable playoff failure this season, then, in one game, make us fall back into the vortex of hope? But, what a game it was!
The undermanned Canadiens (has there been any other description of the team this year?) managed to outhustle, outwork and ultimately outscore one of the better teams from the Mighty West. The Canucks had been on a seven-game winning streak too, so they were really hot. Add a depleted Habs lineup and a French goalie for the other team and the stage was set for a loss that didn't happen.
The old standbys that have kept them in games all year weren't the deciding factors for once either. The Canadiens scored all three of their goals at even strength and the usually airtight PK gave up both Canucks tallies. I don't know if it's the addition of Mathieu Darche and his hardworking philosophy, but Maxim Lapierre has been better ever since Darche joined his line. Then again, I suspect being freed of Georges Laraque is more of a factor in Lapierre's rejuvenation. Whatever it is, Max looked like the promising third-line centre he was shaping up to be last season. He was hustling, going to the net and using his size to protect the puck. His goal gave desperately-needed support offence from the bottom two lines. If the team is to have a chance to squeak into the playoffs, he'll have to keep that up.
I liked both rookies last night. Weber makes some first-year mistakes, but over all, he looks good next to Hamrlik. Hammer's got a reputation for helping develop his young partners, and his steadying influence was evident as Weber mostly stuck with making the simple, smart play last night. The kid can skate too, which really helps on those previously-laborious zone clearances. Ben Maxwell thought he had his first NHL point, which the replay gods later cruelly took away from him, but he's showing signs of being much more ready for the big league than he was last year. He's skating well and battling competitively on the boards. You can see he's just a couple of games away from really putting it together at the NHL level. I hope he gets the chance to do that.
Plekanec needs to be re-signed immediately. The clock is ticking on either signing him or losing him for nothing if he's not traded. The Habs can't afford to trade him because there's nobody else on the market, in the farm or available for an affordable trade who can do all the things Pleks does. Need a game-winning goal? He's there. Have to kill a bad penalty? He's got it. Must win a vital faceoff? He's the man. He's fast, durable, young, hardworking, well-liked and productive. If you ordered the perfect centreman from the catalogue, he's what you'd get, when all the identical guys in size Large were sold out. Plekanec's value to the team is bigger than money, and Gainey needs to do whatever he must to keep him.
Gorges and O'Byrne are really shaping into a strong pair of reliable young defencemen. Gorges is so competitive in the corners and makes really nice passes. O'Byrne is blossoming with Markov as a partner and seems to have finally learned to use his size wisely and well. These guys will be foundation blocks of a strong young D in a couple of years. It's great to see them play the way they can, and with confidence.
Halak. What can you say? He kept the team in the game early and gave it the confidence to go out and do what needed to be done. He wins because he's good, but also because he makes his teammates believe he's solid behind them. A goalie needs to give his mates the idea that he's fine on his own, and they don't need to be covering for him. Halak does that really well. It's another statement in the case for signing both goalies for next year.
The only weakness was shots against, but a buddy mentioned an interesting theory about that. He thinks Halak gets more shots because his rebounds go directly into the slot so often, giving the opponent more chances. I don't know if that's true, but it's food for thought. A couple of times too, the Canadiens were hemmed in their own zone for long periods. But they countered by pressuring the Canucks in the offensive zone too.
All in all, a great effort by a team that had every mental excuse to lie down and be beaten. It's the heart that keeps us coming back I think. How can you think of a lottery pick when it means rooting against the will to win these players are showing on most nights? (Florida notwithstanding.) I'm sure the emotional roller coaster will continue before the final standings are determined. But last night reminded me it feels good to win. And it feels good to watch my team with a smile and a racing heart. I don't want to miss the playoffs, even if Boston gets two top-ten draft picks. So, bring on the Bs!