It had the potential to be a classic.
Six days after Team Canada won Olympic gold in Sochi, the country’s preeminent hockey teams met at the Bell Centre Saturday night.
There was a big and noisy contingent of Leafs fans in the building.
The game was telecast nationally on Hockey Night in Canada.
So what happens?
For long stretches – including the entire second period – the game was a snoozer.
And in this confrontation of Canada’s most important cities, six of the seven goals were scored by Americans.
You could look it up.
Max Pacioretty, who scored twice, including the winner in Overtime, is from New Caanan, CT.
James Van Riemsdyk, who had two goals for the visitors, is from Middletown, N.J.
JVR’s linemate, Phil Kessel, is a native of Madison, WI. Kessel scored once and might have had three more, were it not for some excellent goaltending by Peter Budaj.
The evening’s scoring was opened by Alex Galchenyuk, who was born in Milwaukee while his Belarusian father was playing minor pro hockey there.
The only non-Yank on the scoresheet was Toronto-born P.K. Subban, whose power-play goal tied the game 11 minutes into the third period, setting up Max-Pac’s heroics in OT.
It was a weird night.
The Leaf fans were numerous and loud, booing P.K. every time he touched he puck – which was often in his team-leading 26:38.
The Canadiens outhit the visitors 22-27 and blocked 21 shots to Toronto’s 14.
The Leafs began the game in a funk and did not register a shot on goal until 14:37 into the first period – a stretch that included a shot-less power play.
Having dominated the first 20 minutes, the Canadiens had only five shots in the second period. They almost matched that total with four SoG in 3:28 of overtime.
Certainly not one for the DVD boxed set, but the win kept the Canadiens in second place in the Atlantic Division. And as the team boards a charter for their cross-continental flight on Sunday, the Canadiens can reflect on an unlikely hot streak:
Three straight wins heading into the Olympic break. Then when the NHL schedule resumed, an Overtime loss to Detroit, a Shootout win in Pittsburgh and the OT win over Toronto.
That’s 11 of a possible 12 points, a reasonably secure grip on a playoff spot – the Canadiens are eight points clear of postseason exclusion – and plenty to talk about before the trade deadline on Wednesday.
Should Marc Bergevin be looking to strengthen his club for the possibility of a deep playoff run?
Should the Canadiens general manager acknowledge the non-elite status of the team and continue to build for the future by dealing off some assets?
The list of Canadiens who would be attractive – and, if Bergevin is in a selling mode, could be available – is topped by Andrei Markov. It also includes Brian Gionta, Lars Eller, Travis Moen, Rene Bourque … basically everyone except the young, talented cornerstones of the Canadiens’ future.
You all know the names: Carey Price, of course; P.K., Pacioretty, Galchenyuk and Gallagher. I would add Tomas Plekanec and, at the risk of causing a contagion of exploding heads among the Commentariat, David Desharnais.
I think Bergevin is going to do what he did on Trade Deadline Day, 2013:
A big, fat Nothing.
Teams will certainly be phoning about Markov, who had three assists against the Leafs. He certainly would help a Cup contender, especially on the power play.
But who would replace the Russian veteran – who likes Montreal and has played his whole career here – on the Canadiens’ blueline?
Brian Gionta might attract some interest. But would Bergevin deal his captain, an honest, hard-working player who has given the team nothing short of 100 per cent?
Lars Eller? He has struggled with a succession of linemates. And the Canadiens have a logjam at centre.
I wouldn’t be astonished if Eller were traded. But he’s played well since the Olympic break, and the organization might not be ready to give up on a commodity they’ve sought for decades: A centre with size.
Between now and the trade deadline, the Canadiens will begin their west-coast swing with a game in Los Angeles. Carey Price will make the trip and could return to action against the Kings.
Props to Budaj, who has been steady, if not exactly stellar, in three starts over four nights..
The save on Kessel was absolutely sick. Budaj was faced in one direction and stuck his leg out the opposite way to foil the Leafs’ sniper.
Budaj is 8-4-2 this season. His 2.21 GAA is lower than Price’s 2.33.
The backup goaltender’s fine play exemplifies this team’s tendency to punch above its weight.
We can – and often do – criticize the Canadiens from dawn till dusk. But a team that blows a 2-0 lead, erases a 3-2 deficit and wins in OT has to be credited with character.
And Bergevin might be reluctant to mess with that chemistry.
• • •
Great Moments in Sports Broadcasting:
“They called that delay of game!“ – P.J. Stock
“Which it is” – Ron MacLean
“By the rule book, sure” – Stock
What a maroon!