To borrow from Bob Cole: Whoa baby!
Now that was playoff hockey! If you didn’t enjoy that game, then you’re either in a come or you have something genetically wrong with you. And I aim that comment at Leafs fans who might read this as well, because that was an exciting contest no matter which side you were on. With the victory, the Habs can now almost touch those same Leafs in the standings, being merely three points adrift. I hereby thumb my nose at all those who called the Habs to finish last.
Having said all that, there were some real problems out there for the Habs defensively, except this time it wasn’t the offence failing to come back that was the problem. To a man our defenders struggled, and while they lucked the puck out most of the time, it fell to the collapsing forwards to bail them out on more than a few occasions.
Still, as Koivu said in a post-game interview, they may not have played the best defence, but it was by far the best game to play in – and for us to watch.
Theo: No fault on any of the goals, and he made a few great saves, though I have no clue why La Soiree du Hockey called his save on the shot from behind the red line as the save of the night. Huh? Good lateral movements, a solid glove hand and some great positioning as usual. A-
Bouillon: Struggled against the big boys up front for the Buds. He was pushed around a lot, and while he’s up to the task of pushing back, nights like this make me worry about prolonged playoff series. In one-off games, he’s fine and the damage can be minimized, but over the course of 4-7 I say the opposition learns how to take advantage. C+
Brisebois: A couple of inadvisable passes to go along with a couple of plays that make you go hmmmmm. He comes out of the night smelling like a +2 rose, but those petals are spray painted, I’d guess. On the other hand, he was probably the best of the night. B-
Komisarek: You’d think against the Leafs he might crumble, but since they’re a pretty slow club he didn’t have as many problems as I would have thought, and while he didn’t play that much, he made some very good decisions and didn’t get caught making silly plays or hanging on to the puck too long. This game was a big step forward as far as I’m concerned. Hey, bonus round when you get two assists! B
Rivet: Gadzooks he had problems handling the Leafs. He missed his mark more than a couple of times, and while he was solid along the boards and in the corners, I found he was running around far more than usual. Definitely not his best effort. C+
Quintal: When his first pass of the night hit Sundin right on the tape, I thought this was going to be a long one. And when he did it twice in the first period in the space of a few short minutes, I was envisioning a score of about 65-1 (gotta give us a token goal). His first period was mistake-filled, but he really settled down after that, played *his* game and was effective. B-
Markov: Hot and cold night, to say the least. On one play he makes a brilliant move or wins a scrum against two Leafs, and on the next fizzles with a pass or defensive coverage. He was pressured significantly tonight, and until the third, was letting it get to him. By the third he’d made the adjustment and was just chipping it off the glass when he got in any kind of trouble. B-
Langdon: Turning point in this game was that fight. Before that, the Leafs were starting to push the Habs around, and with that fight he served notice that there was finally a real enforcer to deal with. The Leafs stopped messing around after that until the end of the game. For that fight alone he gets high marks, but when you consider that he was an effective player, I’m looking at full marks on this night. A+
Dackell: Didn’t play a lot tonight, and I think here’s candidate number one for a sitting when Bulis and Sunny get back. While he wasn’t poor out there, when you’re the fourth line, you have to make something happen, and he was only concentrating on his defence. C
Juneau: I actually thought during this game, for the first time ever, whether he was considering retiring early. He was sluggish and did virtually nothing. Now, his head is enough to keep him out there in a defensive role, but anything else is painful to watch. When he was out there on the power play, I was just plain disappointed. C
The trio: It makes for an experienced trio that can play a defensive game when required, which is a good thing. What’s better, though, is that there are two much higher quality players just about ready to make it back. I’ll take this fourth line for now, but not for long. B-
Ward: He really Layethed the Smaketh Down on a couple of Jabronis tonight, and he was effective in the offensive zone as well as the defensive one for a change. His hustle was extra-appreciated on this night when his size was needed. B+
Dowd: Feisty and smart, he’s obviously worked under Jacques Lemaire for a while. Defensively he’s brilliant and he’s got the knack for making things happen up front as well, though he missed a glorious opportunity at one point. A-
Begin: Shot blocks, major league hits, and a basketball-bouncing puck that he just couldn’t corral to almost score a goal. He was paired against Sundin and the big Toronto forward did precisely butkas tonight. A
The trio: This line reminds me of The Rock (wrestler, for those who don’t know). They aren’t the most talented, but they know how to put on a show. In essence, they told Toronto’s best line to take their pretty sticks, shine ‘em up real nice, turn ‘em sideways and stick ‘em straight up their candy… A
Kovalev: I never knew this, but this guy fits perfectly on Ribs’ line because he’s perhaps even slower than his centre. He’s got a nice stride, has wonderful agility, and can’t seem to get out of first gear, even when he’s trying to put on a spurt. He’s got a laser for a wrist shot, mind you, and only a brilliant save by Belfour combined with a couple of *very* close calls prevented him from scoring a couple. At times he did good work as well, though at other times he looked distinctly like he was a Ranger. Oh, and if he continues to only play 15 or so minutes, we have exactly zero chance of resigning him. B-
Ribeiro: That first goal was sublime, as they say in soccer. Top shelf stuff. The rest of his night was pretty darn good as well, though I felt there were a couple of shifts where he didn’t play the way he should have. Still, if playing against the Toronto’s of the league down the stretch is any indication, he could have a very good playoff . B+
Ryder: He doesn’t have the spit or polish that his linemates have, but he has more grunt effort than the two of them combined and doubled. His goal was the result of a second and third effort, and all night he dominated the Toronto defence. Has this kid got a future or what! A
The trio: Interestingly, I felt tonight that the individual was better than the sum of the parts. I didn’t think the line, as a unit, played the best game possible. Now, it wasn’t bad, but had they played together as well as they’d worked individually, I think they could have been completely dominant. B
Perreault: Well, whoever is in that jersey is just keeping it warm for the real Perreault. Not only was he feisty along the boards and winning battles (!), but he put in the second efforts required almost all night, was defensively fairly responsible and… wait for it… blocked shots. Please have a member of your house call 911 now. A
Zednik: The play he made on Perreault’s goal was, in my opinion, one of the top plays this year by a Hab. His end to end rush while wearing one Leaf and dodging a couple of others, then ending it was a picture perfect pass resulting in the winning goal was simply awe-inspiring. *This* is the way he’s most effective: when he skates with the puck and makes plays. Tonight, he was as good as any top winger in hockey, easily. In fact, it’s been building continually in recent days. He’s positioning himself well (his goal), he’s working the boards and winning battles, he’s skating with the puck, and he’s become a tour de force out there. A+
Koivu: The captain had an incredible game tonight; he was at his most feisty and was brilliant on and off the puck. One point could have been ten with everything he created, and when he adds in the great defence that he brought tonight, he proves why he’s the leader on the team. A
The trio: Dominant. Poor old Ronnie Francis just plain couldn’t keep up with these three and routinely they kept the puck stuffed deep in the Toronto end. If they keep this up, it’s one of the better lines in the game at this point, and they’ll open things up for Ribs and the rest of the second line. A
Julien: Well, obviously his match-ups worked. Putting Begin against Sundin was superlative and then placing Sax up against Francis was fantastic. That he managed to get in over ten minutes for Komi was pleasing as well.
PP: Not great on this night, and the experiment with Kovalev at the point lasted a whole minute. C
PK: There was only the one, but they did a good enough job on it. Of course, it helped that it was broken up by the end of the period. A
Team: Chalk this win up to the forwards playing a great game and helping out the mistake-prone defence – and that, of course, is teamwork. Over a stretch of games against the same team we’ll get slaughtered if we play like that, but on this night, it was good enough. Still, the defence will have to be better at controlling the game in our own zone and then starting the counter. B
They may have two games in hand, but we are tied with the Devils – and we have a home-and-home coming up against them which will go a long way to finalizing our probable playoff position. We’re also creeping awfully close to the Leafs, who have only one game in hand. The best news out of all that is that all three injured players (Bulis, Sunny and Souray) were on the ice today doing a workout, and that means this winning team is only going to get stronger.
And for our next trick, here come the Avs for a meeting on Tuesday. They’re another team who’ve done a little tinkering at the deadline, but they’ll be a lot tougher than the Leafs. This is a fast, extremely talented bunch who have a fairly mobile defence and goaltending that’s probably still underrated by quite a few. We’ll have to improve even more in our own zone to remain in this next one, but at this point, after everything that’s happened this season, I honestly believe we can do just about anything.
A Concerned Fan.