Habs Put Together Best Game of Season, Beat Lightning 4-2
Raise your hand if you expected this last week, let alone before the season started.
My hand remains firmly by my side. I quote my own recent blog post, talking about the game versus Tampa Bay, “I’m not delusional; I don’t think the Canadiens will win this one”. Shows what I know.
The Montreal Canadiens played what is undeniably their best game of the season, beating the Presidents’-Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning by a score of 4-2. These Lightning, it should be noted, hold 124 points, have league-leading scorer Nikita Kucherov, 8th-ranked scorer Steven Stamkos and 11th-ranked scorer Brayden Point. Tough team. To show how much the Canadiens dominated this game, one only needs to look at the shot count; the Canadiens outshot the Lightning 45-24. The first goal was a real dumb one, with a Stamkos centering pass going off Max Domi’s skate and into the net. At that point, I thought the Canadiens were doomed. They responded well, however, firing shot after shot at third-string goaltender Eddie Pasquale. I should mention that he was outstanding. The Canadiens finally got one past Pasquale later on in the first period, with Nate Thompson firing one top shelf from close to the net for his first in a Bleu, Blanc et Rouge sweater. The Canadiens dominated both the first period, and were doing the same in the second until Cedric Paquette tapped the puck in past Carey Price, to give the Lightning a 2-1 lead. The Canadiens didn’t lose any momentum, and finally Joel Armia scored from behind the goal line to tie it up. Armia was denied by Pasquale on his first chance, but then he smartly banked the puck off Pasquale’s back and into the net. The third period was again dominated by Montreal. Here, Artturi Lehkonen scored from in tight on a goal that was unsuccessfully challenged for both high-sticking and goaltender interference. Finally, after so many chances, the Canadiens were able to get a goal by Pasquale that was not a dirty one. Max Domi came speeding in on a breakaway, snapped a shot, and made it 4-2 for the Canadiens. That’s 71 points on the year for Domi.
· I’m convinced that the Lightning did not put in a 110% effort tonight. You just don’t dominate a team like the Lightning the way the Canadiens did. This could be for a number of reasons. First of all, the Lightning have nothing to play for, as they’ve clinched the Presidents’ Trophy. The Canadiens, on the other hand, put their playoff hopes on the line tonight, and were playing with much more desperation. The Lightning were resting for the playoffs, while the Canadiens were trying to make the playoffs, so the Canadiens dominated. As well, the Lightning are pretty banged-up. Victor Hedman, Dan Girardi and Louis Domingue were all out of the lineup tonight due to injury, while Anton Stralman only just came back. The Lightning players might have not been playing aggressively like they usually do, so as to not further injure themselves for the playoffs. The third, less likely, reason is that the Lighting want to face the Canadiens in the first round, rather than Columbus or Carolina, so they “let” the Canadiens win tonight, to gain ground in the playoff race. This reason, however, is very unlikely, as no team “lets” another team win a game. Whatever the reason, the Canadiens will take the win.
· The Lightning’s big guns did not show up tonight. Their best players, Stamkos, Point and Kucherov, had one, two, and zero shots on Price, respectively. They, Kucherov in particular, were heavily defended against by the Canadiens, leading to breakout passes out of the Canadiens’ zone, and that’s the end of the Lightning’s offensive zone time. Should the Canadiens meet the Lightning in the playoffs, continuing to shut down the big guns will be key.
· The Lightning had to use a third-string goaltender, Eddie Pasquale, as their starter tonight. Pasquale is generally an AHL backup. To give you an idea of how below-NHL-level he is, Pasquale is rated 67 overall in NHL19. Carey Price is rated 91 overall. There is a 24-point difference in the skill level of these two goalies. Pasquale played surprisingly spectacular, turning aside 41 of the 45 shots directed at him. Pasquale made some brilliant saves, most notably on Brendan Gallagher. Expect a big rating jump for him in NHL 19.
· One of the best parts of the Canadiens’ game tonight was how disciplined they were. Of course, it is important to be disciplined against the number-1 ranked power play in the NHL. Apart from the Lightning pulling their goalie during 4-on-4 to make it seem like a power play, the Lightning had no chances to smoke Montreal with a Stamkos or Kucherov shot from the faceoff circle. The Canadiens’ power play, while not scoring, moved the puck well and had quality scoring chances against the number-3 ranked penalty kill.
· This is the only time in my hockey-fan career that I have cheered for the Canadiens, the Maple Leafs and the Bucking Fruins (my very complementary nickname for the Boston Bruins) in one night. The Maple Leafs and the Bucking Fruins were playing the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Carolina Hurricanes, respectively. The Blue Jackets and the Hurricanes are both competing with Montreal for a wild-card spot. The Maple Leafs lost to the Hurricanes 4-1, while the Bucking Fruins did the Canadiens a favour, and beat the Blue Jackets 6-2.
On to Washington, boys, this should be fun.
Go Habs Go