Let’s accentuate the positive:
• Canadiens played probably their best first period of the season. And the second wasn’t too shabby either.
• They scored seven goals against a Stanley Cup finalist that had won five of six previous meetings.
• Canadiens are first in the Eastern Conference, first in the Northeast Division and first Eastern team to clinch a playoff berth.
• The scoresheet included 14 home-team names.
• Through 40 minutes, Jason F. Spezza, Daniel F. Alfredsson and Dany F. Heatley were scoreless, had four shots and were each minus-2.
• Ottawa’s comeback pre-empted a Brian McGrattan/Chris Neil goon show.
So pop in the CD of Happy Days Are Here Again, hit Repeat and just keep smiling until the playoffs.
Halfway through the third period, when Heatley scored his second to make it 7-4, I turned to pressbox seatmate Michael Farber of Sports Illustrated and made a dire prediction:
"If Canadiens blow this, they won’t win another game this season."
I was serious. The fragile confidence of a young team, a team that few predicted would make the top eight, could not have withstood the greatest collapse in the history of the franchise.
It didn’t come to that. Canadiens killed a 5-on-3; and while Jason Spezza scored on a subsequent PP to make it interesting, Ottawa ran out of time.
A third period that was very nearly a season-sabotaging debacle could be chalked up, by Guy Carbonneau, as a learning experience. Canadiens saw what could happen when they deviated from the game plan and took bonehead penalties.
Twenty bad minutes did not cost them. Canadiens got the W anyway, and they won’t make the same mistakes again.
A letdown was probably inevitable after 40 minutes of total domination. Props to the coaching staff for a great game plan that neutralized Ottawa’s progress through the neutral zone and cranked up speed that the Senators’ clunky defence corps couldn’t handle.
Carbo started his fourth line against the F.s but then went strength-on-strength with Tomas Plekanec, Alex Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn. He varied the match-up to good effect through two periods.
• Two demons – New Jersey and Ottawa – exorcised. One to go, maybe Saturday at the ACC.
• Highest-scoring team in the whole F. league!
• Biggest goal of the night: Francis Bouillon, less than two minutes after Antoine Vermette scored to make it 3-1.
• Pass of the night: my man Sergei K., through a forest of sticks and skates to set yup a goal by fellow Hel’s Bell Mikhail Grabovski.
• The power play is back.
• It doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, but Chris Higgins’ hustle clearing the zone in the dying minutes was a huge play.
• Carey Price could not be faulted on the goals, but I think he’s at his best in close games.
• Ryan O’Byrne played 16 minutes and led both teams in hits with five.
• Saku Koivu had five shots and avoided hooking penalties.
• Maxim Lapierre did his job by really pissing off several Senators.
• Steve Bégin had only two hits but chased the puck aggressively all night.
• Tom the Bomb: a goal, three hits, plus-two.
• Where will Guillaume Latendresse fit in this lineup?
• Their D isn’t very good. Andrej Meszaros had eight shots but was minus-2. Wade Redden had his bell rung and did nothing. Luke Richardson is old and Mike Commodore left his game in Carolina. They were particularly hopeless against the Russians and Belarussians.
• Gerber or Emery for the playoffs? That’s like which would you prefer the night of the prom, a zit or a cold sore?
• François Gagnon of La Presse thinks that might have been Mick McGeough’s last game reffing in Montreal. One can only hope.
So, mission accomplished: Canadiens are in the playoffs, which means team president Pierre Boivin won’t have to trgger the "or else" ultimatum he delivered at the team’s pre-season golf tournament. As if …
But first in the Eastern Conference on March 25?
Pinch me, I’m dreaming. Any minute now, Bobby Ewing – or Pierre Boivin – is going to step out of the shower …