With the red-hot Philadelphia Flyers in town the Montreal Canadiens came up with an excellent effort and seemed headed towards a win, or at least a tie. But two late goals by a Flyers team who never quit gave them the 3-2 win, and their incredible run continues.
The Habs played a very inspired game and took it to the Flyers for most of the contest, but a few missed opportunities combined with a few blown defensive coverages ended up being their downfall.
A night of frustration to be sure, but it was still one of Montreal’s best games of the season.
Montreal 1-0: In a well played, hotly contested game, we have to wait until the 17th minute of the 2nd period to see the first goal. Dagenais shoots it in, Hackett goes behind his net to stop the puck but doesn’t get there in time. Ribeiro collects the puck in the corner and zips a lightning-quick pass to Zednik in front of the open just before Hackett can make it back. Zednik keeps producing even on his new line, with Ribeiro & Dagenais.
Philadelphia 1-1: The Flyers come out in the 3rd period with a renewed passion… just to see how they came out shows you why they such an impressive record. It starts with the Flyers on the rush, Amonte enters the zone and leaves it back to Roenick who gives it right back to Amonte now in the corner. The forwards are all well covered in front of the net so Amonte finds Johnsson who had left his point and headed towards the slot… he one-times it and scores.
On this play Johnsson was Bulis’ man, but for some reason he stopped skating as he got to the blueline… it seemed he didn’t recognize the threat in time, or hadn’t realized it was his defenseman that had went forward to support the offense. He was visibly upset with himself after that goal.
Montreal 2-1: To their credit, the Canadiens did not fold as they used to earlier this year. The Flyers still kept having some great chances, namely a breakaway when Roenick sent Amonte in alone on Garon… but the keeper made a brilliant pad save with his signature split. Buoyed by their goalie’s heroics, the Habs then pressed the Flyers defense with a good forecheck… and Zednik knocks the defenseman off the puck in the corner. Dagenais takes the puck from the corner and heads to the net along the goal line. From that impossible angle, he gives the impression he’s looking for someone to pass to then without warning he wrists the puck up in the small opening over Hackett’s shoulder… and sends the water bottle flying.
Philadelphia 2-2: The Habs then get a 3-on-1, Koivu leaves it to Ryder but thanks to a bouncing puck he can only manage a weak shot on Hackett who makes the easy save. Not taking advantage of the opportunity to put the game away here would come back to haunt them. Again it’s a defenseman who’s allowed to slip in uncovered from the blueline, Ragnarsson is fed from the corner… and puts it past Garon who never saw the puck thanks to some traffic in front of the net.
In this case it was Dackell who cheated too much towards the corner to help out his defenseman… but in doing so left his point man uncovered and the game it tied once more. Being a veteran defensive specialist, and with only 3 minutes left in the game, that was a very disappointing mistake.
Philadelphia 3-2: So now it seems the clubs are headed towards overtime, and Montreal is still fuming about how they’ve lost their chance to grab a well earned 2 points. But it gets worse, as with one minute left the unthinkable happens… Philadelphia scores again. For the 3rd time of the night, it all starts with the Habs not properly checking the point man. This time it’s Ryder that just like Dackell is caught too low in the zone, Weinrich gets the puck and has the time to fire a good shot towards the net.
The second part of the play happens in front of the net. Rivet is caught watching the puck at the point, as he wants to make sure to get out of the way so he won’t screen his own goalie. The problem is that while he’s concentrating on getting out of the way, LeClair is allowed to come out from behind the net and pass in front uncovered… and deflects the puck past a helpless Garon. How Rivet can forget or not see a huge player and notorious Habs-killer like LeClair with one minute left is beyond me.
– I don’t think the Habs playing so well was a coincidence… I think they’ve finally stumbled onto their best possible lineup. With Audette & Juneau out with injuries, they now have: “Bulis-Koivu-Ryder” “Zednik-Ribeiro-Dagenais” “Sundstrom-Bégin-Dackell”. Bulis has added some size & speed to the 1st line instead of wasting his offensive talent on the 3rd line, Zednik provides a legitimate skilled winger with speed to the second line, and Bégin adds some much needed toughness to the 3rd line. The problem is Juneau and soon Audette will be ready to return, and I fear all will return to how it was.
– Surprisingly this time around the Flyers’ size wasn’t a problem for the Habs, having Dagenais & Bégin instead of Audette & Juneau surely helped… but it was more than that. The Canadiens were willing to get their noses dirty tonight and take the hits… in other showed they too are capable coming up with some inspired play.
– The PK unit had its best performance of the year, and this without the ailing defensive general Joe Juneau. Then again it was Carolina, that has a lot to do with it… that and Theodore doing his thing.
– Ward skated for 45 minutes today and his ankle felt fine… he should be back next week.
Habs’ hero: Dagenais was a threat all night… he had a game-high 7 shots on net and scored one of the most beautiful goals of the year in what should have been the game-winner. The top three lines all played played very well all night, even Garon made a few nice saves to keep Philadelphia at bay until the last 3 minutes.
Habs’ zero: Bulis, Dackell, Ryder, and Rivet. If just one of them avoids their defensive mistake, the Habs at least goes to overtime. It’s too bad, because if you put aside their one blunder… all four had good games.
Some will blame the loss on the fact Garon was in nets, but I disagree… he was good tonight. With 3 minutes left it looked like Julien had made the right choice, it was up to the players to keep it that way. This is the kind of game where the Habs have to focus on how well the played, and know that they won’t lose too many if they keep playing this way.
Next up are the enigmatic New York Rangers, the question is will Juneau be re-inserted into lineup after such a well-played game?