For 58 minutes, the Canadiens had the makings of a goaltending controversy.
If Carey Price had shut out the Sabres in Buffalo, who’d get the start against Florida at the Bell Centre on Thursday night?
Well, we’ve been spared that mystery, eh?
Jaro Halak will be in goal as your Montreal Canadiens attempt to bounce back from what might have been the most disappointing loss of a season that has not lacked for heartbreak.
For almost 57 minutes, your Montreal Canadiens played a near-flawless road game.
As Kirk Muller told Renaud Lavoie on RDS after the second period, the Canadiens were executing their game plan: stressing simplicity, getting the puck behind the Buffalo D and forechecking effectively to slow the Sabres down.
As bad as the team had been against Ottawa on Monday night, they were superb against Buffalo: skating, puck support, short crisp passes, aggressive team defence that prevented the Sabres – no slouhes in the skating department themselves – from moving through the neutral zone with any speed or spark.
Then Ryan O’Byrne took the fourth of four consecutive penalty calls against the Canadiens.
And with 3:33 left in the game, Lindy Ruff pulled Ryan Miller to give the Sabres a 6-on-4 power play.
And the roof caved in, a collapse that continued through the Overtime and into a woefully one-sided Shootout.
Defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.
What a bummer.
And 24 hours later, we’ll find out whether Jacques Martin is capable of rallying his shell-shocked troops.
There are positives to build on:
• The return of Mike Cammalleri was the spark that Tomas Plekanec’s line needed, as evidenced by the first goals Andrei Kostitsyn has scored in almost three months.
• Marc-André Bergeron played a solid game on the fourth line and gave the power play a point presence that the Sabres were obliged to cover, opening up the ice for the forwards.
• Until the debacle of the final two minutes, the penalty-killers played an outstanding game.
• Brian Gionta was brilliant in every aspect of the game. If the Canadiens had 18 skaters who played with the energy and spirit of this guy … OK, maybe a few them a little taller … they’d go 82-0.
• Benoit Pouliot, MIA for a few games, complemented Gionta and Scott Gomez with his size and forechecking zeal.
• Carey Price, playing his first game in 17 days, was excellent. The kid just can’t buy a break this season. I wouldn’t stand anywhere near him in a thunderstorm.
The Canadiens were a transformed team from the disorganized, lifeless group that lost to Ottawa.
It’s a short plane ride home from Buffalo. I wouldn’t want to be flying back from Dallas and thinking about a loss like that.
The point pushed the Canadiens up into sixth place, past the freefalling Flyers.
But man, that was a tough L to take.
For 57 minutes, a shutout over the division leader and a nice springboard into the final games of the season.
Instead, a dagger into their hearts … and the task of regrouping very quickly, because a loss to Florida would plunge the city into full-on panic mode.
• • •
Remember that great scene in Good Will Hunting when the math prodigy, played by Matt Damon, breaks down as he talks to his therapist (Robin Williams) about trying to protect his siblings by taking beatings from a drunk, abusive father.
As the tears flow down Damon’s cheeks, Williams hugs him tightly and repeats: “It’s not your fault … it’s not your fault … it’s not your fault ..”
Carey Price needs Robin Williams.
• • •
On a particularly hallucinogenic Antichambre, Michel Bergeron suggested MAB was a better Dman than Jaro Spacek and Norman Flynn second-guessed the decision not to dress Maxim Lapierre.
PJ Stock, of all people, was the lonely voice of reason.
I gotta find out who’s catering weed for that show.