You can make an arguable case that Brian Gionta scored the most important goal of your Montreal Canadiens season.
The proof will be in the postseason pudding.
Imagine the scenario if the Captain had not put that nifty penalty-shot move on Cam Talbot in Overtime.
What if the Canadiens had lost against a team resting its number-one goaltender, its top two defencemen and its prize late-season acquisition.
The New York Rangers who outshot the home team 41-27 and held the Canadiens scoreless through 62:04 accomplished this without Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi or Martin St. Louis.
What if this depleted Rangers lineup had won … which they would have had Carey Price not been brilliant yet again?
The Canadiens would be starting the playoffs on a three-game losing streaks.
The players would be demoralized.
The fans would be plumbing the depths of despond.
And the Tampa Bay Lightning would be licking their chops (does Lightning have chops?) at the prospect of facing an opponent reeling into the first round.
Instead, the Lightning go into Washington on Sunday needing a win to secure second place in the Atlantic Division and home ice against the Canadiens. A loss in OT or a Shootout won’t be enough. It would leave the Lightning and Canadiens tied at 100 points, with the CH holding the tie-breaker because they have more wins in regulation or overtime.
So yeah, Gionta scored a HUGE goal.
A dramatic goal.
And an entirely appropriate goal, because a pre-game ceremony honoured Gionta as the Canadiens’ unsung hero of the 2013-’14 season.
Gionta scored 18 goals this season. That’s the fewest he’s ever had in a full injury-free season.
Gionta’s contract is up this year. He is probably playing his last season in Montreal.
Was he worth $5 million this season. Probably not.
But Gionta has showed up in every one of the 303 regular-season and 28-playoff games he’s played for the Canadiens. He has an impeccable work ethic and leads by example.
Moreover, Gionta’s contract is not the most egregious on a roster that includes Daniel Brière ($4 million) and Rene Bourque ($3.3 million).
Brière and Bourque were Gionta’s linemates against the Rangers. On a night when few of the home team’s forwards distinguished themselves, the line was not the team’s worst. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Michel Therrien keep them together for at least the beginning of the first game of the playoffs.
We know the David Desharnais-Max Pacioretty-Thomas Vanek line will be intact. There might have been some cases of overpassing as DD and Vanek tried to feed Max for his 40th goal, but the unit is far and away the most dangerous line at Therrien’s disposal.
While Gionta was getting the Jacques Beauchamp Trophy and Carey Price was presented with the Molson Cup for his superlative season –the shutout was his sixth, and Price’s GAA of 2.32 was the best of any goaltender who faced more than 1,800 shots this season – there should have been recognition of the Canadiens centre who played with the most wingers this season.
Give the silver revolving-door to Tomas Plekanec. Is there anyone Pleks hasn’t centred this season? With Brendan Gallagher on his right, Plekanec had Michäel Bournival and Dale Weise on his left wing at various times against the Rangers.
They were, unsurprisingly, kept off the scoresheet.
Finding linemates for Plekanec is not Therrien’s greatest challenge heading into the playoffs. Of greater concern is the Canadiens’ power play.
An 0-for-3 against the Rangers ran the PP’s futility record to 0/23 over eight games. Because the Canadiens are something less than an even-strength juggernaut (23rd in the league), the Canadiens have to score on the power play. And PP potency has to act as a deterrent against teams taking liberties with the Canadiens’ smurf-laden lineup … especially in the postseason.
It’s not a coincidence that the power play has struggled since P.K. Subban stopped scoring. After scoring 11 goals in 42 games en route to winning the Norris Trophy, P.K. had 10 in 82 games this season.
His last goal was March 3 in Los Angeles, two days after his last power play goal, against Toronto at the Bell Centre. Opposing penalty-kill units focus on P.K. and Andrei Markov at the points, and the Canadiens have to figure out a way to either open the shooting lanes or create some pressure down low.
They’ll have a few days to work on the PP – and on defensive zone coverage that was woeful against the Islanders and Rangers.
But I’ll warp this up on a positive note:
The Canadiens reached the 100 oint mark for the first time since the 2007-’08 season, when they had 104.
The Canadiens are among eight teams with triple-digit point totals this season.
Tampa Bay, with 99 points, can join the group.
Let’s hope not.