Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens double the Tampa Bay Lightning
The Montreal Canadiens need to treat every game like a Game 7 as they wind down a surprisingly strong season. The Habs are still in the playoff hunt in the last week of the campaign. That’s well above expectations. But now that the goal is close, close isn’t going to feel good enough.
The Habs conclude with Tampa in town Tuesday, a visit to Washington Thursday, and a home date on Saturday against the Maple Leafs. It may take a three-for-three scenario to win that playoff spot.
- Word is that Shea Weber is playing in pain — though you can’t get any confirmation on that from the club — so when you see this type of effort, you can only marvel. Weber gets carved by the fanbase because he’s never going to be P.K. Subban, but he’s been outstanding since the trade. It’s a trade the Habs are winning. They have a leader in the room and a presence on the ice. They have goals from him, too. They also have minutes played. Boy, do they have minutes. In the first period, Weber played 9:03. You rely on your best when you need it most. In the second period, Weber made a gorgeous no-look pass to Andrew Shaw that should have been converted. Weber is everything that GM Marc Bergevin has hoped for.
- Brendan Gallagher should have hit the 40-goal plateau in this one. He seemed to have a clear-cut opportunity every shift, but in only his second career game, Eddie Pasquale looked like the goalie wearing the CH against Gallagher. It has been said thousands of times, when everything is on the line, you want Gallagher on your side. He’s a lion. Let’s make it 1,001.
WATCH: Final stretch predictions
- As the play gets more serious and the playoffs approach, the style of hockey that succeeds changes. It’s the kind of hockey that Joel Armia excels at. Armia has played his best hockey of the season down the stretch. If you are easy to take off the puck, you’re not going to succeed in April. He protects the puck so effectively that you simply cannot wrestle it from him. Armia tied the contest in the second period by just battling again and again until he fired a third shot, from a bad angle, to beat Pasquale.
- So much is being made about hurting Jesperi Kotkaniemi by moving him to the wing from centre for this one. It was the right call from head coach Claude Julien. Kotkaniemi is tiring, while Nate Thompson is playing some of his best hockey since the trade. Jordan Weal is also playing strong hockey. It’s just not worth the consternation. Kotkaniemi will be fine, and while he keeps gaining in strength, this will just be a blip in his career. Just about every kid who found a spot at centre in the NHL spent some time on the wing before they found the middle of the sheet for good. Add to that, Thompson notched the first goal for the Habs by finding his correct spot right in the high slot. Thompson did what he needed to. He’s been a solid addition. There’s a theme circulating that Bergevin did the same thing he did with Steve Ott, Derek King and Andreas Martinssen with these late-season additions. Those additions did not work. The trades to acquire Weal and Thompson have made the Habs a stronger club without question. They are working.
- So many players are worth mentioning in one of their best efforts of the season. The club had 19 shots in the first period and 16 shots in the second. The shot attempts were even more lopsided as the entire team dominated in Corsi — it was 71 to 33 Montreal after two periods. The total of 71 is a massive number after 40 minutes. The Habs were all over the best team in hockey but ran into a hot goalie, as they often do. Tomas Tatar was his usual energetic self. Max Domi was a firebug and difficult to contain and it finally paid off with his 28th of the season in the third period. Jordie Benn made an alley-oop pass to free Paul Byron for a 130-foot breakaway that was simply sensational. Byron himself showed no effects from his concussion, playing with his usual energy. Phillip Danault was his usual intelligent self, taking care of his spot of ice, always on the right side of the puck. Jeff Petry looked to have rockets in his skates. Victor Mete was not overwhelmed one bit by the intensity of the game or the importance of the moment. Andrew Shaw battled for every puck as he always does, including behind the net to keep the play alive on the 3-2 tally. Artturi Lehkonen worked hard and fought off his check to count that third-period goal, and then sent a perfect feed to Domi on the 4-2 goal. It was an impressive effort in every possible way, except for the difficulty they had at breaking down a 28-year-old journeyman goalie until they did on shots 43 and 45.
WATCH: Do or die for the Habs
- None. In fact, they should remember fondly through the summer what they did in this one. How they dominated the best team in hockey in the regular season in decades. How they did what they did. But the work is not over. The Hurricanes have 95 points. The Habs and Blue Jackets have 94. Each team has two games remaining. The Habs don’t hold the tie-breaker. They’ve given it every single thing they have in this fight. It might not be enough for the playoffs, but it should be enough for all of you. Amazing.
- It’s been a topic of conversation many times at COTW this season: the Canadiens are good now, but they’re going to be great tomorrow when a bevy of young guns arrives. The club has five or six major prospects that could be marquee players in time. Three of those players took their first steps to that NHL dream this week. Josh Brook was eliminated from the playoffs in Moose Jaw of the WHL and has already seen action for the Rocket in Laval. Ryan Poehling took the jersey number 25 as he skated for the first time with the Habs Tuesday morning. Poehling said his neck is still sore after his crash into the boards two weeks ago for Saint Cloud State in the NCAA playoffs. The word from Bergevin is that Poehling is not likely to get a start for the Habs before the season ends. Cayden Primeau was sent to Laval after also signing a three-year entry-level contract. The goalie is not expected to get a start for the Rocket either. So even though there are three signings, fans aren’t going to be able to get excited this year to see two of them — just Brook. The signings are in part designed to ensure that the player chooses Montreal because he wants to get his contract started with the Habs’ commitment to him. All in all, it was an outstanding week for the Habs to secure these players for the long term. Next year should be quite entertaining to see those three develop, along with Nick Suzuki. He is still in the playoffs for the Guelph Storm as they take on the London Knights in their second-round OHL series.
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