On a night when the Habs and the NHL honoured Stephane Quintal for 1000 games of service in the big leagues, the Canadiens came out strong then struggled to hold on to a 2-1 victory over a Buffalo squad that doesn’t know the word ‘quit’. In the end, it was a nifty move and empty net goal for Mike Ribeiro that finally slammed the door on the Sabres.
The first period was unlike Hab fans had seen in a long time as shift after shift completely dominated the Sabres. Ultra-high quality play was accompanied by a degree of luck that saw virtually every bounce go Montreal’s way.
You could be forgiven for taking a second look at the scoreboard after Pierre Dagenais scored at 6:07 of the first and wondering why there were not already more. When Saku Koivu’s second effort put the Habs up by two just barely past the midway point, it seemed more like a game of shinney. Indeed, there were times the Canadiens were stringing together first-time passes like the best clubs in hockey and they ended up with 20 shots on shell-shocked Marty Biron.
The cleaning and painting staff at the Bell centre will probably have much more work to do than normal after the game. It’s certain that Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff tore things apart and said things that were searing enough to pull the paint from the walls; his team looked utterly putrid.
And they responded, attacking the Canadiens from the beginning of the second and keeping the hometown favourites on their heels for significant stretches for the rest of the game. The second period was almost a complete reversal of fortunes as Jose Theodore had his chance to turn away more rubber than Goodyear puts into a set of all-season radials.
This time it was the Habs dressing room that took punishment as Claude Julien surely had some choice words for most of his players who’d been playing high-risk, low-result hockey. The one real bright spot in the second was the wonderful play when the Habs were down two men by his trio of defenders – let by Koivu.
The third was a much better period, at least if you like competitive hockey. Each team traded chances, though Buffalo did have the better ones. Theodore made save after remarkable save even going so far as to kick out his leg to make a diving save as Francis Bouillon was sliding into him and sending the two barrelling off into the unknown.
When the final minute came along you would have been excused had you given an audible gasp when witnessing the players Julien sent forth to defend the lead. In a show of confidence by what is fast becoming a brilliant coach who makes controversial but generally positive moves, he sent out Ribeiro with Richard Zednik and Dagenais. Certainly they’d had a fine game and had dominated on most shifts, but when Zednik picked off a pass leading to Ribeiro’s goal, Julien must have been wearing a world-conquering grin.
This writer’s three stars of the game:
1. Jose Theodore
2. Marty Biron
3. Mike Ribeiro
Notes: Chad Kilger evidently took notice at being placed on waivers because he was yet again a force on the ice all night. Will he actually work his way back on to the team?…Quintal’s 1000’s game was solid defensively and he even had a solid scoring opportunity, however the crowd cheered him most when he crushed someone into the wall…Joe Juneau left the game before the start of the second period with a suspected groin injury.