The Montreal Canadiens are probably feeling a little bit relieved tonight after they held on to a 2-2 tie against a New York Ranger team that was winning a majority of the battles. It was certainly not the finest effort of the year, however it did manage to keep the Habs seven points ahead of the Rangers and therefore a decent hold on one of the playoff positions.
For the Habs, it was once again a matter of the special teams doing their job with one goal on the power play and a clean sheet on the man advantage. As these two aspects continue to improve, the Habs look stronger and stronger in the overall scheme of things. Two years ago it was coach Guy Carbonneau who indicated that two top-10 rankings for the special teams should be good enough to give even an under-powered crew like the Habs a shot at the playoffs.
Retro night had the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge wearing their white jerseys and the Rangers came to town wearing a vintage blue jersey – which might have had more than a few viewers thinking nostalgically back to the now defunct Winnipeg Jets. The colour scheme was remarkably similar and the only major design difference was in the crest.
The game itself saw a bigger and stronger Ranger bunch taking the game, particularly the physical aspect, to the Habs. There were long stretches when the puck never left Jose Theodore’s end of the ice as board battles and tests of strength were continually won by the much larger Blueshirts.
Fortunately, on one of the few outings into the Ranger zone in the first, Mike Ribeiro, with a fancy move at the line, placed a puck on the stick of Pierre Dagenais who rocketed a brilliant shot home for his tenth of the season. Dagenais, who has really impressed fans and coaches alike with his offensive instincts and strong shot, has really earned a spot on the second line and tonight played one of his best games of the year, even implicating himself with the body on occasion as well as playing a good defensive game.
In fact, the Ribeiro-Dagenais combination has been ultra-hot of late, with the former even maintaining more than a point per game since being benched by Claude Julien twenty some odd games ago for making his shifts too long. The confidence Ribeiro has gained from being given the second line unconditionally continues to pay off and in the second he made one of the more spectacular moves of the year, skating behind Rangers net and reaching back to almost tuck the puck behind a surprised Mike Dunham.
The second period saw the Ranger domination continue and they were finally rewarded when Bobby Holik eluded his man and tucked in a nice passing play to even the score. There was confusion from the Montreal defenders and Niklas Sundstrom looked the man caught out of position on the play.
When the Habs did get the puck down to the Rangers end in the second, it was a case of the two talented centres, Ribeiro and Saku Koivu, putting the puck on a platter for Dagenais and Michael Ryder, respectively, who whiffed on incredible chances.
The highlight of the second, though, had to be the two on none break the Rangers received when Sheldon Souray played hot potato with the puck at the blueline on a power play. Despite tape-to-tape passing, Jose Theodore managed to come up with an incredible save to maintain the tie.
The third saw the Habs start early on the powerplay again, and this time, after great work by Koivu to get the puck in and start the play, Ryder picked up a loose puck at the side boards, stepped in towards Dunham, then wristed a precise laser into the top shelf. It was his 13th of the season and the young rookie continues to impress with these impressive plays that reek of maturity and confidence.
Moments later, the Rangers managed to get the puck in the net, and Don Van Massenhoven, the referee who was Johnny on the spot, immediately called it a goal. Second ref Dave Jackson came in and indicated the possibility of a high stick and a call to Toronto had to be made to finally get a determination. Some ten hours later, or so it seemed (there has to be a better way), the goal was called off as Chris Simon has most definitely contacted the puck with his stick over the crossbar of the net.
However, the Habs propensity to being second to the puck and losing battles caught up with them when the Rangers scored late, Eric Lindros serving one up for Alexei Kovalev. In reality, it was a just reward for having out-worked the Habs, however Montreal fans can be excused if they felt cheated by the late goal.
Overtime solved nothing, though the Habs completely dominated the four on four and had numerous scoring opportunities, including a powerplay when Ribeiro was hit from behind into the boards by Martin Rucinsky. Despite moving the puck well, in the end they had to settle for the tie.
This writer’s three stars:
- Jose Theodore
- Bobby Holik
- Francis Bouillon