If the Canadiens are going to make the playoffs, something major is going to have to be done; either with the team as it is in terms of overall play or by the addition, or subtraction, of faces. After taking a lead into the third period against the Lightening, the Habs completely self-destructed and ended up losing by a score of 5-3.
Certainly, it didn’t start out that way. The Habs were all over the Bolts for the first period and could easily have taken a much larger lead into the dressing room than the 2-0 count the scoreboard actually indicated. Claude Julien had to be pretty pleased because, almost to a man, the team had played pretty much the perfect period in terms of playing on the road.
About four and a half minutes into the game, the Canadiens took advantage of a poor pinch by the Bolts to break out on a two-on-one. Saku Koivu’s attempt to send the puck to an open Jan Bulis was thwarted by the defence, however he grabbed the loose puck and his shot caromed in to put the Habs up by one. Jose Theodore got an assist on the play, his clearing pass around the boards catching the pinching defender out of place.
The Canadiens continued to dominate the play and were rewarded on the powerplay late in the period when Koivu’s pass to Andrei Markov was bulleted home for his fifth of the year. Indeed, Markov’s play has been steadily improving since returning from injury a few games back, and tonight continued that trend.
The second saw the flow of the game slowly change from being in favour of the Canadiens to gradually going to the Bolts. For most of the rest of the game, it was almost like there were trade winds blowing against the Habs net, and the Canadiens were struggling to fight into gale force winds – winds that were replete with Lightening.
A third of the way through the second, Martin St.Louis scored his 26th of the year when his weak shot from a terrible angle somehow made it through Theodore’s pads. The Habs goalie would certainly love to have that shot back, as replays showed it was not only not going to hit the net, but that Theodore’s technique was abysmal.
Late in the period the Canadiens had a chance to stretch their lead when Niklas Sundstrom dished a perfect pass to Bulis who moved in alone against Bolt goalie John Grahame. Unfortunately, Bulis couldn’t find an opening and the Habs had to settle for a single goal lead heading into the third.
The coveted system that coach Julien has instituted, the hard work that was a trademark of the Habs great run earlier in the year, intelligent play; it was all lost in the third period when the Bolts did everything but demolish the Habs.
A few Theodore miracles were the only things between the Canadiens and a game with ten goals against. In fact, video replay had to confirm ref Terry Gregson’s call of no goal at one point when Brad Richards had Theodore beaten.
From the moment the puck was dropped in the third, the Habs were hanging on. However it didn’t last long because St.Louis scored 4:44 into the final frame on another flukey goal. On an attempted pass across the net, the puck deflected off the stick of Stephane Quintal and somehow made it by a very unfortunate Theodore.
Somehow the Habs found a little luck when their first shot of the period eluded Grahame. The Canadiens retook the lead on a brilliant break-out pass from Koivu to a streaking Bulis. This time he wound up and fired a shot that found the mesh.
Points for the Habs were not to be tonight, however, as a tic-tac-toe passing play at the very end of a powerplay situation for the Bolts found Richards alone in the slot, and his one-timer beat Theodore cleanly.
Just over a minute later, a lost defensive zone faceoff found its way to the point and Vincent LeCavalier deflected home the eventual winning goal. Francis Bouillon was left looking on in wonder at the man he’d left alone as the latter celebrated.
To sum up the performance of the team, Mike Ribeiro, while trying to skate out of his own end through the slot, lost the puck, for the second time, to a Lightening player who just failed to put the Bolts up by two. It was the kind of lackadaisical play that had permeated the Canadiens game as the second wore into the third period.
Despite a flurry around Grahame at the end where two or three chances were only barely missed, the Bolts eventually came up with the puck and Richards popped it into the empty net to firmly close the lid on the Canadiens coffin.
Things don’t look to be getting any easier for the Habs as their next game is in Ottawa against the Senators. Where optimism had reigned supreme going into the All-Star break, now there’s a sense of foreboding amongst the Habs and their faithful as they look at a charged schedule and wonder how they’re going to get out of their funk.