If every game at the Bell Centre were as well-played and entertaining as your Montreal Canadiens’ overtime conquest of the Stanley Cup champs, they could increase capacity to 30,000 and bump ticket prices 50 per cent.
Not that we should be giving Geoff Molson any ideas.
But man, that was some excellent hockey Saturday night – in a building that has seen its share of less-than-excellent games down the years.
And while we’re floating hypotheses, if the Canadiens played like that 82 times a season … well, maybe the Cup wouldn’t be residing on the shores of Lake Michigan.
OK, let’s not get too effervescent here.
The trophy currently residing in Chicago isn’t being packed for shipment to the banks of the St. Lawrence river.
But if Michel Therrien can persuade his team to play that hard over the last 36 regular-season games, at least the Canadiens will enter the playoffs as a darkhorse that is not to be dismissed as a collection of stiffs who can’t win in Philadelphia.
You hold the reigning Stanley Cup champions to 20 shots (fewest against the Canadiens this season) and one goal, you’re doing something right. If Corey Crawford didn’t stand on his head and make spectacular stops on Brandon Prust and Lars Eller, this W would have been done and dusted in regulation.
So who are the real Montreal Canadiens?
It’s a question that must roil the slumber of Therrien and general manager Marc Bergevin.
Coming off arguably their worst game of the season, Thursday night the Wells Fargo Center, the Canadiens played their butts off for 62 minutes.
Yes, the Hawks have been in a mini-slump lately. Saturday’s loss was their third this week.
And yes, Chicago had a goal disallowed. God knows, Canadiens fans know how that feels.
But the Cup-holders hadn’t played since Wednesday and were well-rested. They have no significant injuries.
And they’re a damn good team. Saturday’s game included sequences – especially early – in which the guys in white jerseys ran a clinic on puck possession.
But the Canadiens outplayed them.
The Canadiens played 62 minutes of tough, smart hockey – the latter quality evidenced by only one penalty, to P.K. Subban for a puck fired over the boards. Confronted by a lineup that includes four lines of speedy, skilled forwards – not to mention mobile defencemen – the Canadiens played disciplined hockey: no hooks, holds, trips or any of the desperate techniques to which players resort when overmatched.
The Canadiens weren’t overmatched – or, and this is a tribute to Therrien and his staff – overawed.
The home team held the visitors to single-digit shot totals in every period – and outshot the Hawks 4-0 in Overtime.
The Canadiens outhit Chicago 28-11. Six of the bodychecks were delivered by Alexei Emelin, who played his best game in months.
Emelin’s D partner, Andrei Markov, scored both goals and blocked three shots while playing eight seconds shy of 26 minutes. Just when you start to worry about what Markov has left in the tank – the more so because he will play major minutes for Mother Russia at Sochi – he dials up a Lidstromesque performance.
The best Canadien, from where I was sitting, was Tomas Plekanec. Matched against the great Jonathan Toews, Plekanec won 10 of 18 faceoffs annd had an eye-popping 11 shots on goal. Toews went 10-11 on draws and had one SoG.
Plekanec is good almost every time the Canadiens suit up. What distinguished this game was contributions by players who have been inconsistent, to put it charitably, this season:
• Travis Moen and Brian Gionta on the Pleks line
• Rene Bourque … yes, even Rene Bourque … with four hits and a couple shots while playing with Daniel Brière and Lars Eller, who matched Bourque’s four hits.
• David Desharnais and Brendan Gallagher, who pressured the puck in the Chicago zone on every shift. (But I thought their linemate, Max Pacioretty, was a bit dozy.)
• George Parros parked his big body in the Chicago crease on Markov’s first goal.
• Brandon Prust hustled like the Prust of November.
• Douglas Murray and Raphael Diaz contributed solid, error-free shifts – which is what you want from the third pairing.
And, of course, the goaltender.
Stéphane Waite must have felt a bit like Archie Manning watching Denver play the Giants.
Corey Crawford and Carey Price are beneficiaries of Waite’s coaching acumen.
Both pupils excelled.
Crawford faced more shots. But Price made all the saves he had to and had no chance on the only goal he allowed.
Again, were those the real Montreal Canadiens?
Let’s postpone an answer at least until Tuesday night, when New Jersey visits the Bell Centre. Then the Canadiens play four straight on the road, in Ottawa, Toronto, Pittsburgh and Detroit.
All Eastern Conference rivals – three of them scrambling for playoff spots (the Penguins are a lock).
For at least one game, your Canadiens looked like they are ready for the serious part of the schedule.