In the immortal words of Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, what a long strange trip it’s been.
Your Montreal Canadiens are in the playoffs.
There will be mid-April hockey in Montreal – and at least two home-game revenue takes in Geoff Molson’s pockets – because Carey Price, the goaltender who suggested everyone chill out more than six months ago, was sizzling hot in the most important game of the season.
In his record 71st appearance of the season, Price faced a bombardment of 43 shots – 20 in the third period, when a 1-1 game was on the line.
He made 42 saves. His teammates blocked another 25 shots, and the Hawks missed the net 15 times.
That’s 83 times the puck was off a Chicago stick and heading in the general direction of Price.
Price did what he’s done since October. He gave the Canadiens a chance to win … in this case, against a highly-talented team that needed two points even more than the home side.
OK, I interrupt this celebration to observe that I’m watching Mario Tremblay in fighter-pilot gear on L’Antichambre. It is Cherryesque and ridiculous.
But I will not let it blow my high.
The Canadiens had to win in New Jersey, and they did.
They had to win back home, and they did.
And now they won’t have to win in Ottawa and Toronto.
“We earned our way in,” the franchise goaltender said of the impending post-season. “We’re not falling into the playoffs.”
Jacques Martin talked about an “exceptional win” in a crucial game for both teams. He lauded great goaltending in a game that was “a treat for the fans.”
it was that. Given the circumstances, the quality of opposition and the atmosphere in the Bell Centre, this was the Game of the Year.
Not the least of its qualities was the complete absence of thuggery. Maybe the teams were conscious of playing an Original Six game under all those Stanley Cup banners and retired numbers. Maybe Chicago likes its chances in a game decided by speed, skill and, yes, goaltending.
Whatever the explanation, there was none of the embarrassing BS that characterizes Eastern Conference games involving Boston, Philadelphia and even the Rangers when John Tortorella sends Brandon Prust out for the first shift.
The game was hockey the way its should be played, and the customary 21,273 got their money’s worth … which hasn’t been the case 41 times this season.
• Michael Cammalleri and Andrei Kostitsyn each had five shots on goal, Cammalleri had a goal and an assist and AK46 had two assists. The line, which was the Canadiens’ best when the season began, has rediscovered its mojo at a most opportune time.
• Brent Sopel played 17:05 and blocked six shots.
• P.K. Subban and James Wisniewski played top minutes, 23:46 and 23:24, respectively.
• Wiz blocked four shots.
• David Desharnais played only 9:59 but 2:13 of it was as part of a penalty-killing unit that was perfect in five shorthanded situations.
• Tomas Plekanec – playing his best hockey in a month – played more than four minutes on the PK, as did Travis Moen.
• The Antichambre gang routinely bitches about Scott Gomez’s ice time. Against the Hawks, he played 17:51 and keyed a solid effort by a line that is still in search of the kind of LW play Max Pacioretty provided.
It was sweet.
More in the morning.