Your Montreal Canadiens and the Chicago Blackhawks played two superb regular-season games, both of which featured end-to-end hockey played at breakneck speed.
Both games went to overtime.
The Canadiens won 2-1 on Andrei Markov’s OT goal at the Bell Centre Jan. 11.
Patrick Sharp secured a come-from-behind 3-2 win for Chicago when he beat Peter Budaj with the ugliest goal of the game Wednesday night at the United Center.
And now – after 122:11 of superb, eye-pleasing hockey – these teams won’t meet again – unless they’re Stanley Cup finalists.
Which could happen.
But probably won’t.
Here’s a suggestion: If neither the Canadiens nor Blackhawks make it to the finals, they should hook up in a separate series for the benefit of fans who enjoy entertaining hockey.
Make it best-of-five for the Jean Beliveau Trophy.
OK, that’s not going to happen. More’s the pity.
What will happen next week is the opener of a series between the Canadiens and Tampa Bay. And unlike Chicago, the Lightning play an aggressive forechecking style that likely will put the kibosh on the kind of wide-open play we saw in the Canadiens’ last road game of the regular season.
Montreal homeboy Corey Crawford faced 68 shots in his two starts against the Canadiens. He stopped 64 of them, 28 on Wednesday night, when Crawford’s brilliance was the only thing preventing a Canadiens win in regulation.
That third-period glove stop on Max Pacioretty? Ridiculous … and Crawford made a few more great stops.
The Chicago goaltender looks ready for what will be a postseason war of attrition in the rock ’em/sock ’em Western Conference.
Unless Carey Price is injured – I’ll pause while everyone touches the nearest piece of lumber – that was Peter Budaj’s last start of 2013-’14. And while he was weak on the winning goal, Budaj made several good stops during regulation and came within 48 seconds of securing another huge road win to go along with his 28-save gem on March 24 in Boston.
Budaj was helped by a defensive effort that saw the Canadiens block 24 shots – five by trade-deadline gem Mike Weaver. Even without their top pairing of Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin, the blueline corps put in a solid effort against a team that’s leading the NHL in scoring.
I think Weaver is a lock to start the playoffs, along with Markov-Emelin and the pairing of P.K. Subban and Josh Gorges, reunited at the United Centre and looking good. Gorges’ return to action was highlighted by six hits – high on both teams.
Who will be the sixth defenceman when the playoffs begin?
An intriguing question. On Twitter and L’Antichambre, François Gagnon predicted it would be Douglas Murray. Michel Therrien, if he runs true to form, will want experience on the back end. Jarred Tinordi and Francis Bouillon will be the extras.
I thought Nathan Beaulieu played a solid game in Chicago: 16:29, a couple of blocked shots, plus-1. And what a set of wheels on the kid!
But unless an injury to Markov or P.K. – again, let’s pause for wood-touching, spitting … whatever your mojo – creates a need for a puck-mover, Beaulieu will finish his season in Hamilton.
Speaking of injuries, Therrien could be facing some more line juggling. Good thing he’s used to it.
Alex Galchenyuk played two shifts in Chicago. Marian Hossa fell on Galchenyuk’s knee, and the kid left the United Center on crutches.
Galchenyuk lost almost a full season of junior hockey to surgery on his left knee. Reports are it’s his right this time, but crutches are bad news.
David Desharnais, Max Pacioretty and Thomas Vanek had another great game against the Hawks. Max had six shots on goal, in pursuit of his 40th, and Vanek had four, while adding some dazzling passes that enhanced the revelatory realization that he’s an excellent playmaker.
If Therrien keeps Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher together, maybe Brandon Prust will be ready to join that line for the playoffs. Or Rene Bourque, who was really good in Chicago. Therrien is too conservative to try it, but Michäel Bournival would bring some speed and energy to the Pleks line.
Lars Eller, who missed the game with the flu, could play on a third line with Brian Gionta and either Bourque, Prust or Daniel Brière. Or Brière, a proven playoff performer, could centre Gionta and Bourque/Prust.
That would leave a fourth line to be chosen among Dale Weise, Ryan White, Travis Moen, Eller and Bournival.
The Canadiens have a couple more games to experiment: the mighty Islanders at the Bell Centre Thursday night, followed by the Rangers to close out the regular season on Saturday.
I wish both games were against Chicago.
• Detroit makes the playoffs for the 23rd straight season. That is something.
• Both Eastern Conference Wild Cards were in the Western Conference last season.
• And let’s hear it for Canada’s team.