About last night …

Now we know why there are no shootouts in the playoffs.

The Canadiens and Sabres played 65 minutes of superb, scintillating, postseason-level hockey.

Then it was decided by a defenceman cruising in from centre ice to find Carey Price’s five-hole in the sixth round of a shootout.

And after a beautiful spring day in Montreal and a great evening of hockey, everyone – including the Canadiens – went home from the Bell Centre feeling disappointed.

It was the Canadiens’ third consecutive shootout loss. They haven’t won one since Jan. 17 (which was their third straight shootout win).

Still …. a valuable point left the Canadiens one up on Florida (damn those Stars!) and one behind the Rangers, with a game in hand on each.

Both teams played like they wanted the game last night.

Buffalo needed the W more, and the Sabres got two points to keep their playoff hopes alive.

 

 

 

Credit the Canadiens with coming back from a 2-0 deficit against a very hot goaltender.

Christopher Higgins, who has spent this frustrating season flubbing set-ups and missing wide-open nets, beat Miller with a laser to bring the building to life eight minutes into the second period. Then his hustle caused the Andrej Sekera penalty – followed by another minor, to Jochen Hecht – that produced Alex Kovalev’s power-play goal.

The Bell Centre went nuts and the game should have been well in hand. Then the third period happened.

I’m not a former hockey coach or a keen-eyed Xs-and-Os guy. So I can’t offer a technical explanation of why the Canadiens effort to protect their lead yielded 16 shots and the tying goal.

It seemed like the Canadiens hung back and let the Sabres come to them. That’s not a great strategy with a team that skates and plays a disciplined style like Buffalo.

The Sabres played the Canadiens very tough this season. Two of the games went into overtime and another was a one-goal Canadiens’ win in regulation. The only easy one was a 5-1 Sabres win in Buffalo – Guy Carbonneau’s third-to-last game behind the bench.

Not for nothing is Lindy Ruff the league’s longest-serving coach. The faces change in Buffalo – which has suffered the loss of free agents Daniel Brière, Chris Drury and Brian Campbell – but the team remains competitive because they develop guys who can play Ruff’s system.

The Sabres are very good on zone clearances and transition. They are always in position and make quick, accurate, high-percentage passes to move the puck up-ice. It’s interesting to watch, particularly when matched against the Canadiens’ more freewheeling style of play.

Again last night, the new Saku Koivu line led the way.  Except for a few anxious moments in the defensive zone, Koivu and the two Alexes tossed the puck around and fired at Miller with their usual degree of aplomb.

Trouble is the Canadiens aren’t getting any secondary scoring. Guillaume Latendresse had a very quiet night, and if he’s not shooting the Maxim Lapierre line becomes much less of a threat.

The Tomas Plekanec line desperately needs Andrei Kostitsyn. Bob Gainey benched Matt D’Agostini after eight shifts and 4:28 of ice time. D’Ag tries, but he hasn’t scored since Feb. 9 in Calgary and may be playing himself out of the Canadiens’ plans.

Kovalev was excellent last night. But because he was double-shifted on the Pleks line, Kovy had to play 24:32, which is a lot for a player his age. He looked a bit tired late in the third period and during the OT.

As is perhaps appropriate, the revelation of the Bob Gainey era is the Canadiens’ checking line. Higgins, Glen Metropolit and Mathieu Dandenault have been superb in shutting down Ilya Kovalchuk, Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and, last night, the Derek Roy-Drew Stafford-Tomas Vanek line.

Higgins’ work on the PK has been superlative and the crowd notices. Dandenault is a great skater who’s been wasted all season, and Metropolit is a tireless worker who’d be even better if he were six inches taller.

But that can be said of all the Canadiens’ centres. You really notice their Smurfishness against a team like Buffalo, whose centres include 6’5" monster Paul Gaustad and the spectacularly gifted Tim Connolly, who is 6’1".

The Canadiens give away size down the middle against almost every team they play. It costs them in the faceoff circle and in one-on-one puck battles.

That’s why Gainey spent  his summerin futile pursuit of Mats Sundin. Coming off a 104-point season and the playoff meltdown, Gainey identified a big centre as the Canadiens’ priority need.

Robert Lang turned out to be a pretty good consolation prize, but his injury left the team small …. again.

(And deprived them of a righthanded threat on the power play, but that’s another story.)

On balance, it was a solid effort against a desperate team last night.

Carey Price was very good through three periods, OT and the first five shooters of the SO.

The D wasn’t great.

Roman Hamrlik was out of position on the Adam Mair goal that opened the scoring. Patrice Brisebois is, well, Patrice Brisebois.

Josh Gorges was quietly efficient. Mathieu Schneider played 22:47 – way too much.

Coming off a solid effort against Tampa Bay, Mike Komisarek had four hits and four blocked shots last night. Komo seems to be back. His partner, Andrei Markov, played 28:50, had five giveaways and was held off the scoresheet.

It was playoff hockey, decided by a non-playoff gimmick.

The Canadiens wrap up their long homestand with a game against Chicago on Tuesday night.

I’d be more optimistic about their chances against the Blackhawks if they weren’t wearing those hideous barber-pole unis again.

You may recall the debut of the hookah-smoking caterpillar look: Boston at the Bell Centre on Super Bowl Sunday. The Canadiens lost 3-1, and Robert Lang and Guillaume Latendresse were injured.

Am I the only one who’s sick to death of this centennial stuff?

 


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