When it was all said and done, the Montreal Canadiens left the ice with two very important points for their playoff run. Thursday’s game with the Nashville Predators was truly a shootout, so it was only fitting that the game would be decided by one. Rookie goaltender Jaroslav Halak notched his third straight victory in as many games when he shut down some of the Predators most potent snipers in the shootout.
The only goal surrendered by Halak in the shootout came from Paul Kariya on Nashville’s third shot. With the game on the line, the weight of the world was on Tomas Plekanec to tie the score at one a piece to prevent the Predators from walking away with the win. Plekanec broke out from center ice and skated wide to the right boards in order to let him swoop back in and complete the backhander that found its way past Tomas Vokoun who was sliding backwards into the net. However, Habs fans had to wait nervously before the goal was made official because there was question to whether or not Plekanec had interfered the goalie on the play.
The goal stood, setting up the next shot which would be taken by Saku Koivu. Koivu completed his deke with a backhander that lifted up over Vokoun’s left shoulder. Peter Forsberg, who had yet to register a point with the Predators over the three games he has played since being traded to Nashville, was looked upon to tie the shootout score at two in order to keep the Preds’ chances alive. Forsberg moved in on Halak but toppled over himself during his final deke without getting a shot off. A relieved Halak pumped his fists in celebration while Forsberg remained sprawled on the ice as disappointed the surprisingly loud Nashville fans in attendance.
Things looked murky early on in the first period for the Habs, who let their undisciplined play get the better of them throughout this game. With Markov off for interference, Steve Sullivan was able to tip in his 22nd of the season off of Mathieu Dandenault’s stick 1:22 into the game . Defenseman Shea Weber made it 2-0 for the Preds two and a half minutes later with a point shot that caught Halak off-guard a bit, one the Slovakian goaltender will likely want back. Lucky for Halak, though, was that the Weber goal was only one of the five goals scored on him that he should have stopped.
Michael Ryder began what would be a night of comeback attempts when he scored for the third straight game, with his fourth goal in the last three games. Ryder’s 20th goal of the season, which came with the man advantage, cut the lead in half for only two minutes as the Predators were quick to regain their two-goal cushion with a power play goal by Scott Hartnell.
The scoring wasn’t over for the first period though, as Mark Streit would get his seventh of the season when he pinched in from the point to receive a beautiful pass from Sergei Samsonov. Andrei Kostitsyn, who failed converge on his shootout opportunity, picked up his first assist of the season in this, his fifth game of the season. Kostitsyn was called up earlier today when it became apparent that Christopher Higgins was unable to play due to a shoulder injury.
In the end, this game will be remembered as a comeback win for the Habs, but in retrospect, it was truly a game of unsung and unlikely heroes. Samsonov, Murray, and Perezhogin have been healthy scratches quite frequently over the passed couple of months, and in the case of Samsonov and Murray, have even cleared waivers. Each of these three players scored important goals tonight to help Montreal complete the comeback.
Samsonov, for one, had a very strong outing and picked up a goal and an assist. His goal, by the way, came with only 48 ticks left on the clock to tie the game at five and not only secure a point for the Habs, but gave them a chance at a second one. Murray made the most of his limited ice time, having played only 9:38 tonight, and scored a goal late in the second period on a second effort play where he was able to put the puck past Vokoun as he crashed down on the ice. Meanwhile, it was Alexander Perezhogin who managed to fire home a pass from Koivu to tie the game at four, four minutes into the third period. The goal was Perezhogin’s sixth of the season
Yet another unsung hero tonight was Swiss defender turned forward returned defenseman, Streit. The 29-year-old sophomore registered his 25th and 26th points of the season with his seventh goal and 19th assist. With that, Streit has more than doubled the 11 points his had last season in 48 games. Tonight was his 56th game of the season, a number he’ll surely add to over the remaining 19 games this season.
Jean-Pierre Dumont and David Legwand rounded out the scoring for the Predators in the second and third period respectively. Preds’ goaltender Vokoun had a rough outing tonight, allowing five goals on 27 shot. Also, The Habs continued their ability to shutdown some of the leagues best forwards by holding Peter Forsberg off the score sheet.
The Montreal Canadiens still have two very important games to play before the NHL deadline in the New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs actually lost to the Islanders in a shootout Thursday night, placing New York, who Montreal visits at 12:30pm EST on Saturday, two points back from the Habs. Meanwhile, the Toronto Maple Leafs now sit three points back from the Canadiens, and will be in Montreal Monday night to face the Habs.
GM Bob Gainey spoke with the media today, and finished by meeting with RDS to share some of his thoughts and plans for the trade deadline. A seemingly exhausted Gainey explained with all the class he could muster that it is quite difficult for a team to make any moves when they are in a position such as the Habs. What he meant is that Montreal can be neither a buyer nor a seller when so much uncertainty surrounds them and the playoffs. Though, with their win tonight, the team looks like they’re capable of turning things around for the better, and may yet give Gainey an opportunity to add some help at the deadline for a final playoff push.