Be very afraid.
The Canadiens’ regular season (which may be the only season we have in Montreal) has five more games.
Three are on the road, beginning with a Friday night visit to – gulp! – Philadelphia.
If the team’s postseason comes down to that April 10 game against the Leafs at the Bell Centre …
Well, does anyone want to think about that?
Maybe we should … because the playoff berth that was in the bag during that post-Olypics win streak is becoming more problematic with every game your Montreal Canadiens play – and manage to lose.
Yes, the first period may have been the best 20 minutes the Canadiens have played this season.
And yes, Cam Ward stood on his head to keep Carolina in the game.
But playing in their own building with the postseason hanging in the balance, the Canadiens played one of their worst third periods.
And when the dust had settled, sportscaster Paul Graif came up with the line of the night:
“Did you ever think you’d live to hear Kerry Fraser cheered and Carey Price booed.”
There was mild applause for the veteran referee, working his last game in Montreal.
And there was a smattering of catcalls when Price was announced as the game’s third star.
Price could not be faulted on either of the Carolina goals.
On the first, Roman Hamrlik was torched to the outside by Brandon Sutter, took a delayed penalty and was tumbling into Price when the Carolina forward – who’s having a MUCH better season than his father and uncle out in Calgary – nudged the puck into Hammer who obligingly deflected it past the line, a Toronto video review nanosecond before the net slid off its moorings.
The winning goal was the result of chaos in the Canadiens’ end.
Mike Cammalleri was just out of the box after a successful penalty kill. He lingered near the red line looking for an outlet pass and was late getting back into the play.
Maxim Lapierre had a chance to clear the puck out and couldn’t. Erik Cole fed the biscuit toward the goalmouth, where Eric Staal was unattended on Price’s short side.
Despite having been on for most of the preceding PP, Staal still had enough energy to tap in short rebound for the winner.
Throughout the game, and particularly on the aforementioned PP, the Carolina captain showed why he’s a star – and what the Canadiens lack by not having a centre with Staal’s size.
He’s 6’4″. And while Staal weighs only 205, he plays with tenacity and does not shy away from the heavy traffic.
The Canadiens dominated early – Carolina did not get its first shot till the game was more than six minutes old; their third shot, almost four minutes into the second period, was Sutter’s goal. But they did not create the kind of pressure on Ward that yields second and third chances.
The Canadiens have very good skill players: Tomas Plekanec, Brian Gionta, Cammalleri, Scott Gomez. But with the exceptions of Andrei Kostitsyn and Benoit Pouliot – neither of whom goes to the net with the determination of an Eric Staal – the goal-scorers are small and tend to get their chances from the perimeter.
The lack of size hurts the Canadiens as a 5-on-5 team. And the weakness becomes particularly apparent at this time of the season, when teams are scratching and clawing and biting and fighting and taking no prisoners in the push toward the postseason.
You don’t see many pretty goals in late March and thereafter. Carolina’s two scores travelled a total distance of maybe three feet.
Inelegant but effective – especially against a Canadiens team that blew its wad early and had little left for the final 20 minutes, when Carolina fired 17 shots at Price in a reversal of the first period.
Can the Canadiens play desperation hockey?
They’d better figure out how.
The Canadiens are in eighth place: two points up on Atlanta, four ahead of the Rangers.
Everyone assumes the Thrashers will be done in by their tough schedule – at Washington, at Pittsburgh, home to New Jersey, at Washington again then home to the Penguins.
The Rangers play at Tampa Bay, Florida and Buffalo. They’re home to Toronto and the Flyers before ending the regular season in Philly.
That’s the NBC afternoon game on April 11.
Depending on what the Canadiens do against Toronto on the previous evening, that game could be VERY interesting.
• • •
Ryan O’Byrne was on the ice for the winning goal and blew coverage on Staal, playing with his back to the most dangerous player on the ice.
O’B spent the rest of the third period on the bench, while Marc-André Bergeron – who is to NHL-calibre D what Carrot Top is to comeddy – paired with Andrei Markov.
• • •
Canadiens laid on a nice post-game spread for Kerry Fraser, who reffed his last game in Montreal.
Two bottles of champagne.
God stuff: Moët & Chandon.
Fraser wore three jerseys in the game. He’s autographins one of them and giving it to Scott Gomez to be auctiuoned for a charity Gomez supports in Alaska.
The April 10 Toreonto visit will be Dan Marouelli’s last game. He wanted to end his career in the city where he reffed his first NHL game.