This is what diminished expectations have come to in the city of 24 Stanley Cups:
An overtime loss to the second-worst team in the league is the occasion for sighs of relief, high-fives and much merriment in the watering holes of Crescent St., the Main and St. Denis.
And why not?
Your Montreal Canadiens are riding their three-game losing streak right into the playoffs.
After throwing my back out doing a celebratory handspring, I’m day-to-day for The Dance, partners for which are still undetermined.
Depending on what happens in Philadelphia, the Canadiens will finish seventh (if the Rangers win) or eighth (if it’s the Flyers).
A seven seeding means either the Devils or Sabres as first-round opponents.
Eighth place is … gulp! … Washington, which will finish with at least a 32-point bulge on the Canadiens, while scoring 98 more goals, with a game to go.
On the other hand, the Canadiens have allowed six fewer goals, with the Caps playing Boston tomorrow.
Possible first series goaltenders: Ryan Miller, Martin Brodeur or – wait for it – José Theodore.
And at the other end of the ice, on Wednesday or Thursday night: Jaro Halak.
You dance with the girl what brung ya, but Jaro was beaten four times by the Leafs, did not look great and was a rare no-show in the dressing room.
He was outplayed by Jean-Sébastien Giguère, the latest Québécois goalie to give the Canadiens fits. Giggy made 34 stops and was helped by his goalposts, which the Canadiens managed to ding four times.
Mike Zeissberger, who writes for the Toronto Sun, said the ultimate playoff series would be a Canadiens-Leafs best-of-seven. There’s always something special in the air when the two rivals hook up, and this game was no exception.
Toronto always plays the Canadiens tough.
But let’s be serious: the Leafs suck. And the difficulty with which the Cnaadiens managed to secure the point they needed does not augur well for a deep run in the postseason.
On the other hand (I hate that phrase and I’ve used it twice; what HIO needs is a one-armed hockey blogger), the playoffs are a new season. Everyone starts with a clean slate and the opportunity to redeem himself.
Redemption started early for some Canadiens’ veterans:
• Scott Gomez was spectacular against the Leafs. Four shots on goal while centring the team’s most effective line, 15-11 on faceoffs and a continually dangerous presence in the Leafs’ end. In a must wine (or tie) game, Gomez played like a winner.
• Andrei Markov scored a goal, assisted on two others and was in total mastery for every minute of the 25 he played. This was vintage Markov, maybe the best he’s been since the Olympics.
• Brian Gionta had 10 shots on goal and was in Giguère’s face all night.
• Benoit Pouliot elevated his game to match the do-or-die efforts of his veteran linemates. This was a very positive development, because Benny has been struggling for a while, raising the spectre of his chronic underachievement in Minnesota.
• Mike Cammalleri played like his hair was on fire. He had six shots on goal and looked very much like the dangerous sniper he was before the knee injury.
• Marc-André Bergeron, who began the season out of hockey, ended it playing 24:22 – second only to Markov. MAB scored the most important goal of the game, giving the Canadiens a 3-2 lead heading into the final 20 minutes, and made several alert plays and crisp first passes on D.
Enough with the fourth-line nonsense: MAB is a defenceman. And he had to be because Ryan O’Byrne played a grand total of 1:46 – one shift in each period.
Jacques Martin used a short bench all night, mostly rolling three lines. It worked because final score notwithstanding, the Canadiens held a territorial advantage and would have won easily were it not for Giguère … and, it must be said, sub-par Jaro.
To protect the lead in the third period, Martin benched Andrei Kostitsyn and promoted Mathieu Darche to Tomas Plekanec’s line. The move paid off in several nice puck-possession shifts, but the enigmatic AK will be back for the playoffs.
I don’t know. Martin made the odd assertion that a team needs “25 or 26 players” during the postseason. Maybe BGL is coming back.
Can this team make some noise?
I thought they’d lose in regulation to Toronto, setting up a city-wide nervous breakdown on Sunday afternoon.
As it is, we can spend the Lord’s day not giving a rip what happens around the league.
The Canadiens spent a week chasing that bloody elusive point.
They finally got it, and that’s cause for modest celebration.
• • •
The Canadiens lined up to shake Dan Marouelli’s hand after the game.
Scott Gomez hugged him.
They won’t be doing that for Chris Lee.
• • •
Fight of the Night: Evander Kane makes Marc Savard and many others happy by demolishing Matt Cooke.