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If hockey is a religion in Montreal, than what exactly do we call it when two of the biggest rivals in professional sports face off on a Saturday night? Do we call it hope? Hope, that our beloved CH will show up with a desire to win. Do we call it tradition? Tradition, in that some of us will enjoy the game no matter the outcome. Do we call it passion? Passion, seeing teams full of boys who grew up idolizing the players who’s position they’re now in? Or, do we call it what ever the heck we want to? After all, when your general dislike for the opponent cools off, this is the type of game a true fan lives for. To leave the Air Canada Centre tonight with two big points would be delightful, but in the end, let’s hope this is the type of game that the men wearing the red, white, and blue will be living for too.


With the Habs having left the building, it’s likely that the booing of both Saku Koivu and Mike Ribeiro (though it was quite minor for Ribeiro) should have subsided. Unless, of course, Leaf fans really are as hateful and heartless as we most often make them out to be. Whenever one steps into the ACC for a Habs vs. Leafs showdown, there is always a fair amount of red waving through the crowds. Let’s hope that those Hab fans in attendance will be shouting, but for all the right reasons.


If you’re looking for an answer to who will be in goal tonight, than look no further than your magic 8-ball (no, not the one Mike Komisarek uses before every game when asking about his first NHL goal’s whereabouts). Ed Belfour, who apparently needed to take a few games off to oil up his rusty parts, should return to the cage for the Leafs. Hopefully for the Eagle, he snatched up a handful of sun tan lotion for the back of his neck, too. Because, let’s face it, there’s no way the Habs can lay low tonight. If the players aren’t already feeling the adrenaline in them, they’d better wake-up soon because you can bet that the Leafs are already preparing to roll all over us.


While an honest effort from each and every skater will help prevent any sort of disaster, whomever is in between the pipes for the Habs will have to be the super glue. Whether it be Mathieu Garon, now victorious in four straight; or Jose Theodore, who may be mentally and physically rested enough to give it a go, the goaltender will have to be prepared to face a high-powered offence, which now includes the Leafs best player, Alex Mogilny.


All of this goaltending gossip goes without mentioning that the CH will be, as was learned yesterday, without Andrei Markov. Markov, who has been given a leave of abscence (and rightfully so) to tend to his current family situation, the death of his father, will not be rushed back to Montreal. While he will return much sooner than Sheldon Souray, losing your father at just age 25 would be unbearable for a young man who has been mentally battling his father’s illness the entire season. Losing both Souray and Markov means the Habs may be in tough against the mirror images of those two, Bryan Mccabe and Tomas Kaberle.


Mogilny, who returned to the team on Thursday, has eaten the Habs alive whenever the two sides meet. While it’s true that the talented, stickhandling sideshow can skate through every team in the league, his 53 points in 52 career games vs. the Habs probably make Joe Juneau’s back feel a lot worse. Juneau could dress tonight, although it’s not too likely. With Steve Begin playing wonderfully on the third line during Thursday’s victory, Juneau will be hardpressed to regain his spot; unless of course the old rule of thumb, “you can”t lose your spot due to injury” applies in this case. Perhaps Begin, who is certainly not lacking defensively, would be a better fit up against the Leafs top line.


Speaking of the Leafs top line, it’s likely that a key member of that trio will be missing in action tonight. As much a Gary Roberts, a true warrior who happens to be wearing the wrong jersey, would like to pound on one of his arch-rivals, the bruising winger may be a little too banged up after suffering a pulled leg muscle. The Leafs placed Roberts on the injured reserve earlier in the week.


The Habs’ forwards, who remain entirely healthy with the only question mark being Juneau, finally broke out last game with a four-goal performance. Niklas Sundstrom and Michael Ryder are leading the charge offensively for the Habs. Since the beginning of the month, the smooth skating Swede has recorded seven points, giving him a season total of 8 goals and 10 assists, to go along with a welcomed +5 rating. Ryder, on the other hand, has been equally impressive. What comes as the biggest shocker, is that a player with such a terrific shot as Ryder has scored but once all month, while picking up a total of six points, as well as a pair of assists in Thursday’s win.


This page of history, as do all Saturday night Habs-Leafs tilts, will kickstart into some serious action at 7:00, when the puck is dropped for yet another matchup of importance. The Leafs are facing a must-win scenario, too, with Boston and Ottawa playing solid hockey. When two sides go to war, one will come out on top. We’re not as talented as they are, so every little bit of effort should help us climb out on top.


Garon Going for Gold


Mathieu Garon will be starting for the Habs, according to Coach Claude. A wise move according to some, as it allows a shaky Jose Theodore to rest up in time for the stretch run as things swing into full gear. Garon has won four games in a row,  a mark that seemingly prooves he has just as much right as Theo to play tonight. The only problem is, what if Garon wins?


Also,  Darren Langdon will be a healthy scratch. While both Gary Roberts and Wade Belak are near-sure bets to be out of action tonight, perhaps it would’ve made sense to dress someone such as Langdon, who is known for giving his all, finishing checks, and of course his undeniable ability to drop the gloves. Joe Juneau returns to the lineup, but where he will return to is the real question. There is no evidence to sugget that Juneau does a better job on the third line than Steve Begin, who carried the line against the Flames. It will be interesting to see where he is placed, or if Juneau’s back can last the night against a rough ‘n touble squad such as Toronto. 

Go Habs.