Steve Begin has a flair for the dramatic. WIth less than nine seconds left in the third period and with Montreal on the power play and Jose Theodore on the bench, Begin grabbed a rebound from an inoffensive point shot and lifed it over Roberto Luongo to allow the Canadiens to eventually win the game 5-4.
Michael Ryder also must have something of that flair, because it was his goal in overtime – yet again on the power play – that won the game for the Habs.
This was a back and forth game that really had no right being so. The Canadiens came out of the blocks with all cylinders pumping, yet somehow, with the game completley under control, fell apart in the third period and had to rely on the last minute heroics. Not only were the players somewhat lazy, but there was a parade to the penalty box for terrible penalties.
Consider the penalty against Alex Kovalev who cross-checked an opponent in front of the Florida net. Or the penalty very shortly afterwards against Ryder for throwing an elbow deep in Panters territory. These are the types of penalties that cause coaches to go bald – or cause coaches to have skating practices without pucks.
The Habs opened this one in style with Rivet scoring on a point shot on the power play early. The knuckle ball drifted through traffic and somehow eluded Luongo to give the Canadiens a 1-0 lead.
Moments later it was Zednik finishing a beautiful three-way passing play with his linemates to put the Habs up by two. FOllowing a brilliant outlet pass from Andrei Markov, Kovalev eased a pass to the streaking Saku Koivu, and his pass had Luongo turning inside out to try to get across his net in vain.
The Canadiens were so dominant that it took almost half the period for the Panthers to register a shot on goal. Unfortunately, with less than five remaining, and on the Panthers third shot of the game, Marty Gelinas scored to flatter Florida going into intermission.
The second opened much as the first had, this time with Francis Bouillon scoring on a wrist shot from the point. With plenty of traffic stationed in front, Luongo has probably still yet to see the shot.
Theodore, whose only problem on the night was rebound control, was burned by this at 16:38 of the second when he was unable to smother the puck. Nathan Hornton flipped a backhand past Theodore to bring the Panthers to within one to start the third.
This time it was the visitors taking control. If the relaxation by the Canadiens was because of overconfidence, then certainly they learned a lesson on this night. For the early part of the period, it was Florida dominating play.
First the Canadiens took too many penalties, and with the Panthers up by two men, Stephen Weiss had his first goal. Technically the goal came while the Canadiens were only one man down, however he hadn’t yet reached the play and was unable to make any difference at all.
Weiss scored again, this time to give Florida the lead, when Montreal was again down by two men. With a precise passing play, the Panthers worked the puck back and forth and Weiss had Theodore completely at his mercy.
It seemed that Montreal was going to roll over and head back to the losing column until Kovalev and Rivet hooked up for a dandy play which saw the latter beat two Panthers before sliding the puck just wide. On the play, Gelinas was called for interference, and the Canadiens went on the power play with less than two minutes remaining in the game.
That’s when Begin pulled yet another rabbit out of his hat and scored his fifth of the season.
In overtime there was a very debatable call against Chris Gratton for tripping, and the Habs went on the power play with the goal of capturing a game they had been in danger of losing. With a lick cross-ice pass that cut the defensive triangle apart, Koivu found Ryder who one-timed it easily past a diving Luongo for the victory.
The Canadiens have a couple of days to catch their breath as the next contest isn’t until Friday against the Sabres. The play the return match of the home-and-home Saturday against Buffalo again.