Yogi Berra is credited with coining one of the great clichès of sports:
“It ain’t over till it’s over.”
The observation is true in the game at which Berra excelled.
Baseball has no clock. The game isn’t over until the last man is out.
It’s different in hockey … especially games involving your Montreal Canadiens.
A team that can’t score is three goals down with 3:22 to play?
If that ain’t over …
The grim finality certainly had occurred to fans in the Bell Centre. Almost half of the 21,273 had abandoned the premises when Lars Eller – LARD ELLER, for crying out loud! – scored the goal that began the Comeback of the Season.
Oh ye of little faith! Your expensive season tickets should be confiscated and distributed among fans who don’t give up hope until the siren sounds.
If you can find any.
When the puck dropped to begin Saturday night’s game, the Canadiens were 29th in the NHL in 5-on-5 scoring. And their power play had gone into the tank through the team’s three-game losing streak.
Is this a club you expect to score three goals in less than four minutes?
Of course not. This is a club you expect to be tied 1-1 after outshooting Ottawa 17-4 in the first period.
It was dèja vu all over again. In their most recent loss, the Canadiens had outshot Boston 14-6 in the first period.
Not one of those shots got by Tuukka Rask, and the Bruins scored four unanswered goals to win easily.
But the Senators are not the Bruins. Ottawa scored three unanswered goals to take control of the game heading into the last four minutes.
Then they fell apart. And the loss likely doomed Ottawa’s chances of making the playoffs.
What the win did for the Canadiens remains to be seen. But we won’t have to wait long.
They play in Buffalo Sunday night. Carey Price didn’t even make the trip, so it will be up to Peter Budaj to hold the fort against one of the few NHL teams that has more trouble scoring than the Canadiens.
He’ll need better protection than Price got. In his first game since winning a gold medal in Sochi – playing behind Team Canada defencemen who were a tad better than Alexei Emelin, Douglas Murray, Mike Weaver and, yes, Overtime hero Francis Bouillon – Price was rusty and looked bad on Zack Smith’s goal, which dribbled between his legs and lay there for the Senators forward to tap in.
But Smith’s goal came on one of Ottawa’s dismayingly frequent breakaways. And the Senators’ other three goals were the result of woeful play by the Canadiens in their own end.
Lars Eller and Brendan Gallagher were on for all four Ottawa goals. Alex Galchenyuk was on for three of them.
It was good to see the EGG line reunited. And coming off an emotional win, we’ll probably see them together again in Buffalo.
Galchenyuk and Gallagher will bounce back. But when Eller scored – for the first time since Jan. 2, a span of 24 games – he had been on the stat sheet for two penalties. And when he wasn’t in the box, Eller was watching four Ottawa score four times.
Maybe the win will boost Eller’s fragile confidence. He followed up his goal with an assist on Brian Gionta’s.
And maybe the win will persuade Michel Therrien to loosen the shackles on P.K. Subban.
The reigning Norris Trophy winner played his best game since the Olympic break. With Ottawa in control and fans streaming toward the exits, Subban went full P.K. on the reeling Senators.
The stats: ToI of 28:55 to lead both teams, assists on all three comeback goals, seven shots on goal, to lead both teams, plus three that were blocked and two that missed the net; four hits, two takeaways and two blocked shots.
Comparable stats for Erik Karlsson: 26:00, two assists (including the unreal pass that sprang Smith), three SoG, plus five that were blocked; zero hits, one takeaway.
The game had its nasty moments. Some may suggest Brandon Prust’s mugging of Milan Michalek woke the Canadiens up and keyed their comeback. Chris Neil, Dale Weise and Travis Moen got third-period misconducts after a scrum in Lehner’s crease; and Bobby Ryan got a game for going berserk on the zebras after Frankie Boo’s OT winner.
The team will meet for the fifth and last time April 4 in Ottawa. The Senators will be well out of it by then, which could make for a lively evening.
Where will the Canadiens be in 20 days?
It’s still hard to say.
The win was emotional, uplifting and offered the fans who stuck around excitement that’s been all too rarely on display at the Bell Centre this season.
But the futile first-period fusillade, the poor zone play in front of Price, the power play that sputtered through seven opportunities until DD’s miracle goal …
In short, there are issues.
And 14 games to get them sorted out.