The Montreal Canadiens and Pittsburgh Penguins played a game to remember Thursday night. It was a game that had everthing from goals to physical play to overtime and a shoot-out. Although the Habs ultimately failed to pick up the full 2 points, they managed to steal one in a game most teams would have mailed in as a loss in the second period. Plus, a single point can go a long way in the very competitive Eastern Conference. The Canadiens made sure they stayed in this game by fighting back from 2-goal deficits three times.
This one began with a bang, literally. Maxim Lapierre got the but end of his stick up into Sidney Crosby’s chest, causing the young superstar to fall like a rock. Replays of the incident revealed little in terms of how hard the blow was, which left the impression that Crosby may have gone down a little easily. On the ensuing face-off, both sides left their players on the ice and Crosby retaliated against Lapierre by tripping him off the face-off. Surprisingly, there were no penalties called on either incident.
The tone was set, and the physical battles began and continued throughout the game. Each side was looking to make a big hit, with Mike Komisarek getting a few solid checks on Crosby early on. Meanwhile, Coach Guy Carbonneau wasn’t afraid to send out Lapierre and the rest of the forth line against Crosby as the game progressed, and the tactic worked as it caused Mark Recchi to take a penalty early in the second period.
Later in the second, Saku Koviu was absolutely leveled by Colby Armstrong behind the Habs’ net, surely sending shockwaves of fear of potential injury through Habs fans everywhere. Koivu ultimately shook off the hit, but Sheldon Souray wasn’t going to let it slide. The rugged rearguard took matters into his own hands and headed straight for Armstrong and he wasn’t about to take no for an answer. Armstrong had just enough time to get his gloves off before Souray took him down to the ice and proceeded to plummet him.
Questionable calls are always a subplot to games in the new NHL, and this game was no different. Souray received a grand total of 27 PIMS, including 7 of which that the Canadiens would have to kill off. Souray was also thrown out of the game for his antics, a call Carbonneau, among others, was not pleased with. Another mystery behind the confrontation was that the Penguins did not receive a single penalty on the play, even though Armstrong had clearly dropped his gloves in anticipation of the fight. Maybe if Souray had given him a chance, the refs wouldn’t have been so one-sided in their decisions.
This game wasn’t only about the physical battles, but featured lots of goals as well. The Pittsburgh Penguins opened the scoring late in the first period on a power-play goal by Evgeni Malkin. Michael Ryder was the man in the box, assessed a penalty on yet another questionable call in which he simply lifted the opponents stick and took the puck away.
The Penguins would later add to their lead on during a 5-on-3 situation off a shot by defenseman Sergei Gonchar, with Radek Bonk off for interference and Sergei Samsonov serving Souray’s penalty. Bonk would return to the ice to score his second shorthanded goal of the season. Gonchar and Bonk would exchange goals once again in the period, scoring their 9th and 8th goal of the season respectively.
The third period would see the Penguins take a 4-2 lead with a goal by Erik Christensen. The Habs showed they were in this one for the long-haul when they rallied to tie the game on goals from Mike Johnson and Mathieu Dandenault. Johnson’s goal was the second shorthanded goal on the night, and the 15th the Montreal Canadians have scored this season.
The game tied at four, it was off to overtime. Montreal dominated the extra frame, partly thanks to a late power-play, and had 7 of their 44 shots on goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury in OT. The Penguins were unable to get a single shot off in the 5-minute overtime, and finished the game with 33 shots on David Aebischer.
This was a game destined to go the distance. Having remained tied even with the overtime, it was Pittsburgh’s turn to take control. Christensen and Alex Kovalev exchanged goals in the shoot-out while Crosby and Christopher Higgins failed to capitalize. With the shoot-out score tied one all, Evgeni Malkin was able to complete a nifty move to beat Aebischer stick side.
With the game on the line, it all came down to the Habs’ third shooter, Tomas Plekanec. However, it was Fleury who would have the final say, stopping Plekanec’s shot for the win.
This was certainly one of the better games the Habs have been a part of this season, even with the loss. It was also an important game to pick up a point in because of the number of teams currently gaining ground on the Habs, including the Penguins.
The best news for fans is that these two teams will match up again this coming Sunday in an afternoon game. Both will first play on Saturday afternoon though, with the New York Islanders coming into Montreal and Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals squaring off with the Penguins.