It was a fun way to end the regular season, playing against a team that had just lost hope the previous night and was therefore unmotivated to play in its final game. The Canadiens took full advantage and blasted the Sabres by a score of 6-3, Michael Ryder emerging once again as the offensive catalyst and star.
It was a large shame, however, to see the end of the game dissolve into meaningless fights and scraps, and while frustration could be understood on the part of the Sabres, some of the antics left a sour taste to the hockey fan. It’s unfortunate, but Lindy Ruff seems to continually be involved in these sorts of late-game adventures, despite being one of the better coaches in hockey.
The Habs opened the game on a flyer, each line pressing the opposition hard. The first to tickle the twine, however, was the line of Ryder, Mike Ribeiro and Pierre Dagenais. It was the latter who was the beneficiary of some hard work, particularly by Ryder, as he swiped the pass received behind Mika Noronen.
Just before the midway point in the period, Dagenais was at it again, this time pulling the puck from between the legs of Ryder who’d done well to protect it, and then swiping a turn-around shot from the slot into the goal.
Late in the first there was a moment of anxiousness on the part of the Habs as Alex Kovalev took a knee-on-knee hit at the
The second continued much where the first left off, this time Jim Dowd the beneficiary of a rebound created on an Andrei Markov shot.
The Sabres responded this time, however, Brian Campbell slotting home a cross-ice pass behind Jose Theodore to cut the lead to 3-1.
The Habs responded in kind on the power play when Saku Koivu sent a centreing pass to Jan Bulis. While Bulis failed to capitalize, the puck drifted out to a streaking Richard Zednik and he made no mistake giving the Habs back their three-goal lead.
Daniel Briere was allowed two opportunities to shoot late in the period and he made no mistake on his second attempt. It allowed the Sabres a very flattering 4-2 score moving to the third frame.
Ryder was typically fantastic when he broke in one-on-one, faked a move, then fired a wrist shot past Noronen. It was the rookie’s 25th of the campaign and a fantastic way for him to wind up his season.
Very quickly the Sabres rebounded when JP Dumont, on a bad change by the Habs, was able to once again bring the Sabres to within two.
Before the replays on that goal were complete, however, Steve Begin, in his first game back since having the flu, was already breaking in alone on Noronen and he promptly scored giving the Habs their three-goal margin once again.
It was then that the ridiculous play from the Sabres ensued and it resulted in a couple of misconduct penalties as the refs took charge…fortunately. The last thing the Habs needed heading into the playoffs were injuries. In fact, Craig Rivet had left the game early already, though no one was quite certain why.
And so ends a very successful season, one that surpassed all expectations. The Habs now take a few days off before facing wither the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Boston Bruins – their two biggest rivals. If the season was exciting, just imagine the playoffs.