About last night …

Price
It is somehow fitting that on the night Quebec nationalists held a pro-French demonstration outside the Bell Centre, the best performers inside the building were two Canadiens who don’t speak English.
Of course, Andrei Kostitsyn and Alexei Emelin don’t speak French either.

Perhaps they were inspired by the ovation Vladislav Tretiak received when the great goaltender of the Soviet era was introduced before the game, along with fellow 1972 series alumni Paul Henderson and Yvan Cournoyer.

Based on his lights-out goaltending in ’72 and again during the great 1975 New Year’s Eve game that pitted Central Red Army against the Canadiens, Tretiak has always been hugely popular in Montreal.

This is a city that embraces Slavic hockey stars, such as Andrei Markov and Alex Kovalev, because they play with the kind of speed, skill and élan that appeals to the taste of a Montreal hockey fan.

Kostitsyn has not enjoyed non-stop adulation. He has displayed intermittent promise between brain cramps and periods of nonchalance.

But when the big Belarusian is on his game, as he was against Tampa Bay, AK46 flashes the kind of talent that made him the Canadiens’ first-round choice in the great draft year that was 2003.

(Insert Getzlaf/Perry/Richards/Parise lament here.)

Kostistyn did not make it onto the scoresheet. He wasn’t on the ice for any of the goals scored in the game.

But man, he was a beast on every shift: skating hard, hitting everything that moved, making superb passes to his linemates, Lars Eller and Travis Moen.

On the back end, Emelin got off to a bad start. Playing with a full cage to protect the face injury he suffered in practice on Friday, the Russian defenceman failed to control Vincent Lecavalier, who moved into the crease from behind the net and tipped Dominic Moore’s pass past Carey Price.

Stuff happens. Lecavalier has scored a lot of goals in the NHL – and he’s made many Dmen look bad.

But Emelin bounced back. His coach kept putting him out there, and Emelin responded with sound positional play, six hits (including a cruncher on big Ryan Malone) and smart puckhandling.

“He makes big hits,” Max Pacioretty said of Emelin, “and he takes hits to make a play.”

Randy Cunneyworth began his press conference by saying, in French, he was proud of Emelin. The coach also singled out Lars Eller for his defensive play against Tampa Bay’s top line and hard work on improving his faceoffs: 2-5 after the first period, Eller ended the night 10-10.

The Great Dane again brought the Bell Centre faithful out of their seats with nifty stickhandling and passing. Eller has great vision and imagination.  Could this 22-year-old kid be Number 1 centre Canadiens fans have awaited since Vincent Damphousse?

Cunneyworth took a chance by dressing three centres, with Petteri Nokelainen a healthy scratch. An injury to Eller, Tomas Plekanec or David Desharnais would have created a major problem for the Canadiens’ coach.

But everyone stayed healthy … and Plekanec ended with less ice time than either Eller or DD.

Pleks might have seen more action had the Canadiens been killing many penalties. But after being shorthanded only twice in the win over Winnipeg, the Canadiens had one minor against the Lightning. And it was Plekanec for an inadvertent high stick.

Cunneyworth, the ostensibly lame-duck coach, has his team playing smart, disciplined hockey. After a slow start – no shots on goal for more than six minutes – the Canadiens got their speed game going, won puck battles and wreaked havoc in the Lightning zone.

It helped that a depleted TB defence had MAB playing 19 even-strength minutes. But credit the Canadiens with exploiting that blueline weakness.

And credit them with another pedal-to-the-metal third period. Leading 2-1, the Canadiens tried to get a third goal – and did, Erik Cole’s team-leading 17th on a power-play with the clock ticking down.

Cole played nine minutes less than he did in that yeoman effort against Winnipeg. But he had four hits; and the Two and a Half Men line – Cole, DD and a revived Pacioretty – does good things every time they’re on the ice.

With Scott Gomez still out of action, the three highest-paid forwards on the roster played on a line against Tampa Bay. But while Brian Gionta, in his first game back, had a couple scoring chances, Mike Cammalleri continues to struggle.

Nine goals for $6 million? That’s not nearly good enough for a small, one-dimensional forward.

The $$$ line will have to step up when the Canadiens play host to St. Louis and visit Boston this week.

The Blues and Bruins aren’t the Jets and Lightning.

But neither is this the late-2011 Montreal Canadiens.

Cunneyworth said the Canadiens try to “frustrate teams by putting the puck in places that don’t put us in peril.”

That means less pressure on the Canadiens’ D and fewer shots on Price, who faced 24 from Tampa Bay after 27 by Winnipeg. Cunneyworth is using Josh Gorges, P.K. Subban, Emelin and Raphael Diaz as his Top Four and apportioning minutes carefully among his bottom three.

Tomas kaberle and Chris Campoli played 13 and 14 minutes, respectively (though it seemed longer). With the Canadiens avoiding tghe penalty box, Hal Gill played less than 10 minutes at even strength.

The win vaulted the Canadiens past Tampa Bay and into 12th place in the Eastern Conference. They’re still seven back of eighth-place Pittsburgh and face a steep mountain to climb in order to secure a playoff spot.

If the Canadiens beat St. Louis and Boston, we can talk about a surge.

Or as the language nutters would have it, a Serge.

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