The Toronto Maple Leafs entered
The win brings the Canadiens to within a measly three points of the Leafs in the overall standings which, considering the prognosis for the team at the beginning of the season – dead last from some pundits, is quite simply a coup for the players, coaches and management of the club. That they are so close to clinching a playoff spot for only the second time in six years makes each win that much sweeter.
It can also be noted that the Bell Centre is finally becoming a place where teams don’t want to play. With a 20-11-4-1 record at home this season, the Habs have made home finally a sweet home. Perhaps all they needed was for a previous Cup champion with the club to come back and take over the role of GM; Bob Gainey apparently has some pull with the old Forum Ghosts who finally appear willing to come to their new home.
This was a playoff intensity game, make no mistake. The fans were loud all night, and frequently there were chants from supporters of both clubs attempting to drown out the other. The hockey was high intensity, if not always the highest quality. There were solid hits, virtually no passengers, and naturally a fight.
In fact, the fight could probably be looked at as a turning point in the game, even though it happened in the first when the Canadiens were already up by a goal. The Leafs were starting to get feisty and were beginning to take liberties with the home side when Darren Langdon decided enough was enough and dropped the gloves with Tie Domi. It was a spirited fight and Langdon probably gets the victory in a slit decision – and from that point on, the Leafs were far less feisty.
That first goal the Habs scored was a thing of beauty. Ribeiro broke in with Kovalev on a two-on-one and, when the pass wasn’t there, he dangled brilliantly across the goal, finally getting Belfour to commit to the first move. Once the Bud goalie had hit the ice, and with his angle rapidly deteriorating, Ribeiro slotted the puck in a narrow opening and send the crowd into its first frenzy.
Toronto didn’t take long to even the score as, just a few moments later, confusion in front of the net between Zednik and Koivu left Matt Stajan alone, and he slid the puck past Theodore.
Zednik and Koivu, however, were on fire for most of the game, including a couple of shifts moments after the Toronto goal where they dominated the play with their rejuvenated linemate, Perreault. In fact, the three were head and shoulders above anything Toronto had on the ice, and were also the best line for the Habs on this night.
It was a tough start to the second period as, just over a minute in, Niewendyk popped home his 17th to send the Buds up for the first time. On this occasion, it was Bouillon and Rivet – particularly the latter – who were lost in front of the goal.
Montreal replied and tied the game at two when some hard work from Koivu and Perreault landed the captain at the half boards staring at a wide open Zednik in the high slot. A perfect pass and one-timer later and Belfour was scooping the puck out of the back of his net as Zednik pumped his arm and shouted in defiant triumph (presumably thanking the Ghosts for coming to the game). It was his 25th of the year and continued his white hot string of games lately that had him winning player of the week for the week gone by.
Less than three minutes later the Habs failed to keep the puck in the Toronto zone and, instead of falling back defensively, there was a dive at the puck made from the blueline. That failed and the Leafs broke out two-on-one, Berehowsky scoring an easy one.
With only a couple of minutes left in the period, the Habs once again clawed their way back, this time off of some hard work behind the Toronto goal by newcomer Kovalev. Michael Ryder picked up the loose puck, circled the net and fired, then picked up his rebound and fired again while falling, this time watching the puck bulge the twine.
Finally, with the Ghosts guiding him and a Leaf crawling all over his back, Zednik took a pass from Komisarek in his own zone and skated cross ice. When Marchment came out of position to nail him, Zednik stepped lightly to one side and found himself deep in the Toronto zone, looking towards the middle where Perreault was streaking to the net. The rest, as they say, is history.