Not a convincing win, but it was a vitally important W – one of the biggest of the season.
Imagine the nightmare scenario if the Canadiens had gone 0-for-Florda to stretch their losing streak to a season-high four games.
Montreal’s hockey fans would be in an uproar. The talk shows would bristle with urgent trade speculation.
The players would be booed at their annual blood drive today. The pressure to win at the Bell Centre on Saturday would be enormous, and quite possibly more than a young team could handle.
Christopher Higgins saved the bacon last night. Pouncing on a loose puck that Tomas Vokoun misplayed, Higgins gave Canadiens a chance to salvage a point.
Alex Kovalev, who had an off-game by his standards, secured the win – and two very valuable points – with that seeing-eye shot in OT.
But the Man of the Match, beyond question, was Carey Price. This was the goaltender we saw during those early-season road wins in Pittsburgh and Toronto: calm, cool, utterly confident.
Price made 35 saves last night and is a lead-pipe cinch to draw the start against Philadelphia on Saturday. And if he beats the Flyers … well, we’ve got ourselves a good old-fashioned goaltending controversy.
Andrei Markov played 30 brilliant minutes last night. His skating and playmaking are off the charts. If, as expected, Roman Hamrlik reurns on Saturday, Canadiens have three solid defence pairings: Markov-Mike Komisarek (who will have to be at his physical best against ther Flyers), Hamrlik-Ryan O’Byrne, who was excellent last night; and Josh Gorges (playing the right side, where he’s more comfortable) and Francis Bouillon (another moose who’ll be useful against Philly).
Higgins played a great game and so did Saku Koivu. There were signs – admittedly, against a Florida team missing five regulars – that the Captain’s line is about to shake off its lethargy. Sergei Kostitsyn is not completely in sync with his linemates, but he helps out with his hockey sense and smart positional play
A Koivu line resurgence is essential because as good as Tomas Plekanec-Andrei Kostitsyn and Kovalev have been, they can’t carry the team for the next six brutally-competitive weeks.
And the supporting cast is going to have to step up.
Accepted wisdom is you stand pat after a win, but Guy Carbonneau may be tempted to tinker with his third and fourth lines.
I’d like to see Max Lapierre centring Guillaume Latendresse and Mark Streit. Because the Flyers are in town, Tom Kostopoulos and Steve Bégin should flank Bryan Smolinski (who was a team-leading 7-4 on faceoffs last night).
• I liked the PK last night. Steve Montador’s goal came at the end of a Florida power play and was a fluke deflection. Pleks, Kovy, Koivu and Higgins are great in shorthanded situations.
• Objects in the rear view mirror may be closer than they appear: Canadiens have three more games against the Buffalo Sabres.
• Michael Ryder: Trade the poor guy already. This is torture. Package him with Dandenault and Halak for Jarett Stoll or Chris Gratton.
• Breeze to the pressbox until further notice.
• If, as last night tantalizingly suggested, Carey Price is about to get World Juniors/Calder Cup hot, this city will go bananas.