You can forgive Claude Julien for the scowl he had on his face despite the Canadiens beating the Bruins for their first home win by a score of 4-3. With a two-man advantage and the Bruins obviously pressing after winning the faceoff, Andrei Markov tried to keep the puck in at the blueline rather than play the conservative game. A sparkling save from Jose Theodore is the only thing that preserved this win.
Despite being shaky to start the game, Theodore gained significantly in confidence to the point where, by the end, he was making those saves that fans have come to expect from the former Vezina winner. If he looked somewhat shaky by dropping too early to his knees in the first, in the third he looked stellar as he robbed Glen Murray with a fantastic post-to-post move.
The game certainly didn’t start out very well for the Habs. Despite an opening shift by Saku Koivu and linemates that had the Bruins on their heels, and despite another thundering hit from Mike Komisarek behind the Canadiens goal, the team found themselves down by one as Tomas Plekanec made his first really bad rookie mistake.
After plucking a rebound from the crease, Plekanec curled around the net and sent a pass towards Ribeiro on the near boards. He obviously didn’t see P.J. Axelsson, who swiped the pass and ripped it over the far shoulder of Theodore.
It wasn’t long before the Bruins went up by two. A shot from the point, where Theodore was on his knees before it was taken, deflected and travelled through a scrum. From his knees, Theodore was unable to harpoon the snail-like puck, and Brian Leetch, swooping in from the point, scored an easy goal.
Perhaps the most striking thing about this game, though, despite the two teams and the seven goals scored, was the glaring inconsistency in the officiating. What were penalties just two games ago were suddenly allowed to go, and one got the feeling that the players had no idea how to play. A penalty in one instant of the game was perfectly fine, according to the officials, at other times.
While there was still flow to the game, there has been a definite relaxing of the rules, and obstruction is slowly making its way back. And that, for everyone involved, is a large shame.
The first period in the books, Julien certainly had words for his crew who, despite playing fairly well, were behind by two and really didn’t have the jump they needed. Whatever he said worked.
Early in the second on a power play, Michael Ryder slotted a sweet backhand past Andrew Raycroft to bring the Canadiens within one. Despite a poor pass reception, he managed to regain control and give the crowd something to cheer about. The goal also motivated the Habs.
It wasn’t long before Kovalev, who was simply outstanding tonight, deposited 6’7 Hal Gill on his posterior in an open ice hit. Repeatedly, on this night, Kovalev made defenders look silly as he danced rings around them. At one point, later in the third, he snaked through the defence and tried to place the puck in the corner of the net. While he didn’t manage to score, the effort put the Bell Centre on its feet.
Kovalev was at the heart of the Habs second goal. After picking off a pass in the slot in his own zone, he fed a neat pass to a streaking Alex Perezhogin. The latter then fed Koivu and flew out to the left wing to set the two-on-one attack. Despite losing control of the puck on Koivu’s pass, Perezhogin had the presence of mind and patience to regain the puck and whip a pass across to Koivu who popped it into the empty cage.
The line of Koivu, Kovalev, and Perezhogin was, as usual, the Canadiens best, and two two headliners were the best players on the ice by a fairly wide margin. Perezhogin, though, does not look out of place, and in fact he seems to be gaining in confidence each game.
Late in the period, while killing off a somewhat iffy call by the refs, the Bruins retook the lead as Souray deflected a Nick Boynton shot into his own net. Leetch recorded his 1000th NHL point on the play.
The Habs weren’t about to let this one get away, though, and early in the second on the power play, they struck back. Perhaps it was fitting on this night when the organization raised a banner of the Montreal Expos to the rafters that a goal was scored whle struck in mid-air. After a shot from the point by Francis Bouillon, the puck bounced on Raycroft and Mike Ribeiro, with a fine display of hand-eye coordination, singled home the tying run.
It was shortly afterwards that Theo began finding his real ‘A’ game while making the stellar save on Murray. If not for his heroics, perhaps this one doesn’t go the Habs way.
The winning goal, scored on the power play, was the result of some obvious practice work with the man advantage. Rather than hamer away point shot after point shot that didn’t hit the net, Sheldon Souray just put the puck on the net. Kovalev dug and won the puck to Perezhogin, and he slid it between Raycroft’s wickets.
Perhaps fortunate for Markov, he was stellar in his play for much of the night, but you can just bet that he’ll still get an earful. Hopefully confidence won’t drop as the Canadiens play again on Saturday night against the Islanders, and they’ll once again need him at his best.
For now, though, the Habs will surely be happy with a few things. First and foremost, they won. Secondly, the second line finally woke up and produced a little. Third, the first line was completely dominant as usual. And finally, as with the awakening of Theo, there were others who put in extremely strong performances, most noticeably Radek Bonk, who played his best game as a Hab.
Oh yes, and that little thing about coming from behind to win the game. That will surely please everyone on the team.