The Montreal Canadiens made a valiant effort at the end, but when the buzzer went, the final score, a 5-4 loss to the Maple Leafs was somewhat flattering. For two periods the Habs had been dominated, and it was only a Leafs collapse that made the end worthwhile.
The first period was played almost entirely in the Montreal zone as the Leafs completely dominated. The problems for the Canadiens started with the two cogs on defence, Markov and Souray, out of the lineup, and finished because there was no cohesion between forwards and defence.
Mike Komisarek was the first victim of poor play when his clearance attempt went off the heel of his stick, eventually ending up with Antropov who’s two attempts at goal fave the Leafs the lead.
Shortly thereafter, Mathieu Garon was beaten again, this time by Fitzgerald out in front when his checker, Saku Koivu, in an attempt to shove the Leaf out of the slot, fell, thus allowing a mostly uncontested goal.
Things went from bad to worse as Michael Ryder, in an attempt to corral a puck dumped out by the defence with his glove inadvertently game the puck away and Stajan easily tucked it between Garon’s pads, thus signalling the end of his day.
While the last goal was one he would have wanted back, the two previous goals were hardly the fault of the Montreal goalie and if he’s suing at this moment for defensive support, one can hardly blame him. He made some good saves, but in the end he was victim of a team that didn’t compete. Julien pulled him more to shake the team than to indicate to Garon he’d had a bad performance.
The second was much the same as the first, with a collection of poor passes and even worse reception of passes permeating the Habs game. On a powerplay, Niewendyk put the Leafs up by four when he took a pass in the slot and fired home an ultra-accurate shot.
Interestingly, after this a couple of Habs decided enough was enough. Koivu, perhaps spurred on by some of the boos he was receiving again at the Air Canada Centre, suddenly picked up his game a notch and with Pierre Dagenais open in the slot, fed a one-timer that found the back of the Leaf net.
Two other players who were there from the start, Steve Begin and Michael Ryder, showed some of the grit and hustle so desired by the fans in Montreal. Better late than never, their efforts started, late in the second, to rub off on their teammates.
The third saw the Habs competing with the Leafs. The fact the Leafs had dropped into something of a shell and were hardly playing any kind of attacking game anymore certainly helped, of course.
Hitting the blueline, Begin fired a shot early on that somehow made it through Tellqvist, the Leaf goaltender. It was a poor goal and if anything could give the Habs life, this was it.
Just after the ten minute mark, Ryder put in a burst after firing a long shot, picked up his own rebound and circled the net on an attempted wrap-around. While it was unsuccessful, Jan Bulis picked up the aftermath and his pass to Ryder ended up at the point when the latter was cross-checked to the ice. Francis Bouillon picked up the loose puck and fired home the goal that brought Montreal to within one.
Unfortunately, late in the game, Patrice Brisebois got caught on a bad pinch which led to a two on one with Mogilny and Sundin. Unsurprisingly, the two powerful scorers combined to give the Leafs their two-goal lead once again, Sundin with the marker.
But the Habs were not to roll over in this one. Mike Ribeiro picked up the puck deep with the extra attacker on the ice and fed Ryder in the slot and his deft move and shot pulled the Habs once again to within one. Scotty Bowman, working the Hockey Night in Canada booth called it a goal-scorers goal and noted the slick more that Ryder used. These words should be music to any Habs fans ears.
Once again, late with the attacker pulled, Montreal started to press, however in taking his eyes off the puck, Koivu lost control and the Habs only regained themselves with a few seconds left and a faceoff just inside the blueline. And while Koivu won it and Ryder was given leave to step in and take the shot, it unfortunately whizzed just wide sending the Habs to defeat.
At least they can go on to New York knowing they hadn’t given up when down by three goals.