So let’s not pump the tires on the bandwagon just yet, eh?
The win moved the Canadiens into 11th place. They are seven points behind eighth-place Washington, but the Capitals have two games in hand.
That’s why of the three “most important game”s of the season the Canadiens played this week, Washington’s visit to the Bell Centre was an absolute must-win.
And they didn’t.
Meanwhile, objects in the rearview mirror may be closer than they appear to be.
The red-hot Islanders won again saturday night. Tampa Bay won. Carolina got a point for losing in OT.
Robert Laflamme of Presse Canadienne Tweeted an estimate that the Canadiens would need 50 points in their last 34 games to punch a ticket to the postseason dance. A record of 23-7-4 would do it.
Even on a night when they played splendidly at the ACC against a rested team that needed the W more than they did, your Canadiens did not look like a team that’s going to win 23 or 25 of their last 34 games.
But they could.
And that possibility will ensure that fans enjoy the Sunday afternoon promotional practice at the Bell Centre and show up in a relatively positive frame of mind on Wednesday night, when the mighty Detroit Red Wings visit the Bell Centre for the last Canadiens’ game before the All-Star break.
So in that spirit, let’s bag playoff math, savour a win that made Ron Wilson and Don Cherry unhappy and get ready to enjoy some Sunday football.
Know what I liked most about the win in Toronto?
Solid performances by players who – regardless of what happens in this fudged-up season – will be part of the future in Montreal.
• Lars Eller reached double-digits in goals, scoring on a close-in shot that he practices tirelessly in Brossard before his teammates come out on the ice.
• Back in the lineup after a night in the Pittsburgh pressbox, Raphael Diaz had a goal, four hits and even contributed on the penalty-kill.
• Alexei Emelin had five hits. He has 131 on the season, despite sitting out 12 games. He blocked four shots and was effective on the PK.
• Andrei Kostitsyn had four hits. You may question his inclusion as a player with a future in Montreal, but I think the Canadiens will either re-sign AK46 or trade him for a player or draft choice who will be part of the team’s resurgence.
• P.K. Subban had four shots, all of which were on net. His early penalty wasn’t wise, but P.K. generally played within himself and avoided the errors – of execution and demeanour – that have the Antichambre lynch mob all over his case night after night.
• David Desharnais had only one SoG but was masterful in moving the puck around hulking defenders in blue jerseys.
• Carey Price looked like the night off in Pittsburgh did him good. Beaten by Matthew Lombardi on a move that may have had the goaltender thinking of his shootout miseries this season, Price bounced back with a solid 32-save effort that sets him up nicely for what will be a measuring-stick game against the Red Wings.
Kudos also to the two guys who are good every night: Josh Gorges and Erik Cole.
Rene Bourque scored his first goal as a Canadien. I’m not quite prepared to predict there will be many more, but Bourque goes to the dirty areas and does what he was brought to Montreal to do.
Scott Gomez was good again and has settled into the role of a centre-wing who contributes positive minutes with a variety of linemates.
And despite playing two games in as many nights, the Canadiens didn’t fade in the third period.
It was a solid road win against a team that, like the Canadiens, is a work in progress.
Pierre Gauthier spent Saturday in Los Angeles, where he attended the Kings’ game against Colorado. The Canadiens’ general manager has been to Nashville and Anaheim this week, as speculation heats up about whether the Canadiens will be buyers or sellers at the Feb. 27 trade deadline.
Betwen the All-Star break and the trade deadline, the Canadiens face a steady diet of Eastern Conference opponents, all of whom will be in the hunt for playoff spots: Two games against fast-fading Buffalo, New Jersey and Washington; alsoingle games against Winnipeg, the Islanders, Toronto and Carolina.
The end of February will find the Canadiens in Florida. Deadline Day is between their games against the Panthers and Tampa Bay.
If Gauthier follows form – and if he’s still the GM – he’ll make his deal(s) before the deadline. If he’s selling, the names you hear most often are pending UFAs Travis Moen, Hal Gill and AK46, each of whom could help a Cup contender.
We’ll have a few weeks to chew on rumours, some of which may prove to be true.
For now, the Canadiens spoiled Hockey Night in Canada’s Leaf-blowing party.
And that makes for a happy Sunday.