Did anyone foresee this?
The consensus among so-called experts was Canadiens would finish out of the playoffs again this season.
They still might. But it would take quite a tumble – all the way from first place in the Northeast Division.
So which combination of results would you prefer today?
• If Ottawa beats Pittsburgh and Canadiens beat New Jersey, the non-playoff team is first in the Eastern Conference.
• If Pittsburgh wins, Canadiens can open up a three-point lead on Ottawa if they beat the Devils.
Of course, if the Senators win or salvage a point in a tie and Canadiens lose … I won’t even go there.
No matter what happens today short of a total humiliation at the hands of Martin F. Brodeur and his very pissed-off teammates (who got all of 18 shots in a hame against Cristobal Huet last night), Canadiens will be going to the west coast with wind in their sails.
Not that they’re actually making the trip by boat. They’ll be flying to California, on Cloud Nine.
Canadiens played a superlative road game in Buffalo, which is a tough place to win.
The power play – which experts predicted would be crippled by the loss of Sheldon Souray – scored three times in three chances. And they made it look easy, with tape-to-tape passes and seeing-eye shots.
Tomas Plekanec, who’d been in a funk, racked up Canadiens’ first hat trick of the season. His linemate, Alex Kovalev, had four assists. Andrei Kostitsyn chipped in with a breakaway goal, off a brilliant pass by Kovalev, and brother Sergei got into the act on a late-game Hell’s Bels shift with Andrei and Mikhail Grabovski
Mark Streit had a goal and two assists.
Grabovski, called up from Hamilton to be traded to Atlanta in the aborted Marian Hossa deal, had two assists and continues to play like a guy who’ll be hard to dislodge from the lineup.
On another great night for Canadiens’ eastern European contingent, Roman Hamrlik was a rock on the back end and Andrei Markov, victim of an unpenalized cheap shot, responded by playing as angry as we’ve seen this season.
As Carey Price mentioned after the game, the defence and backchecking forwards did a very good job of protecting him. Mike Komisarek was excellent again. My man Josh Gorges was outstanding, and Ryan O’Byrne continues to improve.
Price made 31 saves but was not severely tested. Buffalo’s first goal was a fluke and he had no chance on the second. The new number one goaltender continues to impress with his cool demeanour, positioning and puckhandling.
As befits a home team on a hot streak, Buffalo came out thumping. But Canadiens got the first goal on an early PP. And two minutes after Buffalo scored to make it 2-1, another power-play goal by Plekanec re-established a two-goal lead.
Buffalo tried to slap Canadiens around. It didn’t work. The PP made them pay, and in the game’s only fight, Guillaume "Lucian Bute" Latendresse caught Nolan Pratt right on the snoot.
Everyone contributed as Guy Carbonneau was able to roll his four lines for 60 minutes. The coach’s determination to use all his players all season undoubtedly has contributed to Canadiens’ very lucky lack of serious injuries. With balanced ice time, no one is getting burned out.
And it’s made for balanced scoring. Canadiens lead the league with seven 40-point players: Kovalev, Plekanec, Markov, Streit, Saku Koivu, Christopher Higgins and Andrei K. If the Magnificent Seven score 50 points, it will be a first since the 1988-’89 season when Mats Naslund had 84, Bobby Smith 83, Chris Chelios 73, Stéphane Richer 60, a Guy named Carbonneau 56, Claude Lemieux 51 and Shayne Corson 50.
I can’t remember if that team was in first place on March 1.