About this afternoon …

A vignette that explains why your Montreal Canadiens are a first-place hockey team:

Trailing 4-2, L.A. pulls their goaltender with two minutes left. Canadiens gain possession and Guillaume Latendresse breaks away.

Gui! had scored what would prove to be the winning goal during the second period. It was his first since January 31.

He could have added a second into the empty net. Instead, Latendresse passed to Tom Kostopoulos, who put the game out of reach.

I’m not in Gui!’s head, but here’s my read on his thinking:

"I’m finally out of my slump. Wouldn’t it be cool if TK – a teammate who always has my back and everyone else’s, a guy who hasn’t played in weeks and never complains about it – could score a goal in the city where he played two seasons?"

That’s called team spirit, my friends.

And it has propelled this team to heights no one in Montreal – or anywhere else in the league – dreamed of when the season began.




This is what Canadiens are all about this season:

11 names on the scoresheet. 11 names on the list of 26 blocked shots
(L.A.: nine, by four players). 18 players with double-digit minutes.

It’s called esprit de corps in French, and it was exemplified by a Russian: the great Alex Kovalev, standing at
the gate and seeing all his victorious teammates off the ice after their 38th W of this amazing season.

Back in Montreal, buffeted by a crazy winter storm that’s blowing snow halfway up my living-room window, I’m sipping a Jack and thinking that’s some kind of hockey team out there winning games in sunny California.

I don’t know how Canadiens would fare in the Pacific Division. As we’ve seen since the road trip began in San Jose, they play balls-out, smash-mouth, take-no-prisoners hockey out there.

In a loss to the Sharks and in wins over Phoenix and Los Angeles, Canadiens have faced – and in two cases, surmounted – challenges they don’t see in the Eastern Conference. There’s nothing peaceful about the Pacific: they’re big, they’re fast and they’re aggressive.

Canadiens took an early licking and kept on ticking. They didn’t panic, and their skill level eventually took over.

Some observations:

• Does anyone in the East have two better goaltenders than Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak? Jaro was spectacular today. He kept it scoreless in the first period and stopped 16 of 17 shots in the second. This guy is an NHL goaltender, and Canadiens are very lucky to have him for the stretch drive and postseason.

• Tomas Plekanec, playing sick: 15 minutes, an assist, 9-6 on faceoffs

• Sergei Kostitsyn took a horrible penalty, but man, what a hockey player! His brother isn’t bad either.

• It’s tribute to Christopher Higgins’ character and mental toughness that he can endure blown chances that would drive a lesser man insane and still work his ass off and contribute. Exhibit A: diving to nudge the puck out of the zone during a crucial third-period PK.

• Mike Komisarek, playing against guys as big or bigger than he: seven hits, four blocked shots (Dustin Brown had two hits)

• Plus-2s on the game: Pleks, Josh Gorges, Francis Bouillon, Sergei Kostitsyn, Gui! Canadiens plus-15, Kings minus-16 (extra attacker when TK scored), Rob Blake minus-3

• Patrice Brisebois, the only veteran of the 1993 team that beat L.A. for the Cup: scored the first goal that transformed the tone of the game and played 12:32 of solid, error-free hockey

• Special teams: Canadiens PP was 1-for-2 while the PK killed 4 of 5

• Break of the game: a panel of plexiglass that ended the second period with 46 seconds left. L.A. had fially scored and was buzzing Halak when the teams abruptly left the ice

• The value of rolling four lines: Kostopoulos, Gui! and Bryan Smolinski played in excess of 11 minutes; Kyle Calder and his Kings linemates played 8 minutes

• My man JG: 19 minutes, two hits, three blocked shots.

• Gorges, Bouillon, Komisarek, Andrei Markov and Roman Hamrlik are a very good defence corps, It will be fun to watch them against Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, François Beauchemin and Mathieu Schneider

• Howie Morenz died 71 years ago today. It wasn’t International Women’s Day back then.

On to Anaheim.



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