Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens fall to New York Islanders 4-2 as season nears end

The final two nights of the season for the Montreal Canadiens include a visit to Long Island, and a home date against the Boston Bruins Thursday.

For the New York Islanders, it was a huge game as a win meant a playoff spot, and they got it done. The Isles claimed a 4-2 win over the Canadiens.

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It was difficult to tell which team needed the win to make the playoffs. The Islanders had everything on the line, but they struggled. In the first period, the Canadiens had the better chances. It was Denis Gurianov with a chance alone that he missed, then the rebound came to Sean Farrell who also shot just wide.

Only a short time later, it was Joel Teasdale with an outstanding chance from five feet but he hit the post. The Islanders had the goal from Brock Nelson, but they could have easily been down by two halfway through the opening frame. Such is the always unpredictable nature of sports.

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Professional hockey players don’t really understand that they have an expected role to play, and they are to lay down their sticks and accept it. In fact, for a team like the Islanders, the Canadiens can be a more dangerous opponent, because of the natural tendency to be overconfident against a weak team with pride.

Head Coach Martin St. Louis said that his club would play hungry to the end of the season. They were true to their word, blocking shots and forechecking hard, giving and taking hits, making sure the Islanders got nothing easily.

Before the end of the first, it was Jake Evans stealing the puck inside the Isles zone. Evans then took it to the slot where he faked that he would shoot, before sliding it off to Rem Pitlick who had a wide-open net for the tying marker. Isles fans were extremely anxious as it was tied.

Evans and Pitlick had good chemistry in this one. In the second period, they also connected on a give-and-go, but this time Ilya Sorokin was up to the challenge to make the save.

Montreal kept hanging around thanks to a stunning effort by Nick Suzuki short handed. Suzuki showed great speed to outrace the defender, then he put a one-handed backhand into the top corner behind Sorokin. Maybe, Suzuki’s goal of the year.

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Suzuki had his 25th goal of the season and 65th point. Those are career highs in both goals and points. Suzuki has point-per-game in him when the intangibles are better. He only needs some consistent support from his linemates, better teammates overall so he doesn’t always have the hardest matchups, and a power play that isn’t close to the worst in the league so he can get some easy points as well.

With the season on the line, the Islanders flirted with an awful destiny for nearly the entire third period up by only one, but they were able to finally put it to bed with a power play goal four minutes from the final whistle.

Another strong effort by the Canadiens against a desperate team. The Islanders make the playoffs at a raucous UBS Arena.

Click to play video: 'Pride Night takes centre stage at Montreal Canadiens game'
Pride Night takes centre stage at Montreal Canadiens game

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At this point, it would be odd to not cheer for a better chance at Connor Bedard or Adam Fantilli. The Canadiens are in the five spot for the lottery, but they can finish in the six spot with the wrong results on the final night of the season. Thursday sees the Canadiens host the Boston Bruins while the Arizona Coyotes host the Vancouver Canucks.

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At the moment, the Coyotes lead by one point over Montreal. Montreal wins the NHL first tie-breaker with more regulation wins than Arizona. Montreal needs to remain one point behind Arizona, so they came make life easier with a loss to the Bruins, rather than hope that Arizona takes care of Vancouver.

Even if the Canadiens don’t win the lottery, they improve their chances greatly of getting a top quality player like Will Smith should they draft as high as fifth, rather than as low as eighth with the absolute wrong results in Thursday night games and lottery results on May 8.

All in all, Team Tank should be pleased. This could have gone a lot worse for them, if not for three season’s worth of injuries wrapped up in one season for Montreal. If Samuel Montembeault wasn’t one of the best goalies in the league in Goals Saved Above Expected stealing games, then Montreal could have been closer to last in the league. By the same token, though, if the Canadiens didn’t suffer so many injuries, they could have drafted somewhere around 12th.

All in all, fifth is fair, and it’s only one night away.

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While the Canadiens missed the playoffs, the Laval Rocket are still trying to grab the last playoff spot in the American Hockey League North Division.

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It’s a bizarre schedule to conclude the season for Laval as they will finish their hockey Friday, and then scoreboard watch the Cleveland Monsters who play their final three games of the season with games three consecutive nights Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Laval played the Toronto Marlies on Wednesday night, then conclude the season with a home date against Syracuse. Cleveland finishes with Utica, and a home and away against Rochester. There are no freebies for anyone as all opponents for both Laval and Montreal are playoff bound, and both Syracuse and Rochester need good results for their placing.

Laval against the Marlies Wednesday night was superb with high intensity at a packed Place Bell as the Rocket greatly improved their playoff chances with a fantastic 6-3 win.  Anthony Richard had a hat trick, Mitchell Stephens had two goals and Jesse Ylonen added a late power play goal. Cayden Primeau strong again as Toronto outshot Laval 42-29.

Here is how it looks now in the standings as Laval has a three point lead with only one to play, while Cleveland has a possible six points on the board. The Rocket can make the playoffs with a win in their final game, then get one positive result with a Cleveland loss.

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What looked impossible last month now seems very possible.

Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on after each Canadiens game.

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