With an offhand remark he made during Saturday’s edition of L’Antichambre, Mathieu Darche captured the spirit that has lifted your amazing Montreal Canadiens from worst to first in the Eastern Conference.
The panel was talking about the dogged determination that has characterized Brendan Gallagher’s play this season, exemplified by the winning goal he scored from the edge of the blue paint in the Tampa Times Forum.
“I’d take David Desharnais and Brendan Gallagher,” Darche said, “100 times over Andrei Kostitsyn.”
And with all due respect to Darche, a gamer who gave 100 per cent, we’d all take the 2013 Canadiens 1000 times over the team we’ve endured through recent seasons.
Playing without one of their Top Six forwards (Rene Bourque), without a Top Four defenceman (Raphael Diaz) and, for the last 10 minutes of the game, without Brandon Prust, their emotional sparkplug, the Canadiens erased a two-goal deficit, held the home team to two third-period shots – none for the first 18 minutes of the frame – the Canadiens racked up their 16th win in 25 games this season.
Eight of the Ws have come at the Bell Centre, which is once again a happy place. And eight have come on the road.
That could be nine road wins by the time the team boards a charter flight back to Montreal Sunday night. Even though they have a cross-state trip to Sunrise, the loss of an hour and a 6 p.m. puck drop against the struggling Panthers, the Canadiens have a decent chance to record their fourth win on a five-game road trip.
Even without Prust.
In his postgame remarks, Michel Therrien praised the courage of his newly-wounded warrior. Prust injured – or perhaps reinjured – his left shoulder on a Prustian play, flying into the glass of the Tampa Bay zone in an effort to prevent an icing call.
The guy doesn’t know how to let up.
Nor does Gallagher, whose determination, Therrien said, is “an example for his teammates”.
The coach also found good things to say about Michael Ryder – “he played well defensively and concentrated on small details” – and Hamilton call-ups Greg Pateryn – “played solid defence, didn’t take chances, made a good first pass and kept it simple” – and Gabriel Dumont, who played with intensity and won two crucial defensive zone faceoffs.
The injury to Prust obliged Therrien to make some late-game adjustments. Dumont and Colby Armstrong played shifts with Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk. And despite Ryder’s strong effort – five shots on goal, two assists – Therrien thought it prudent to play Travis Moen with Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta late in the game.
Pateryn, a righthanded shot who se addition let Francis Bouillon play his natural left side, played 9:13, which is a shade less than what we’ve been seeing from the Number Six defenceman. At the other end of the ToI scale, P.K. Subban played 27:42, blocked three shots and was not on the ice for either of the Lightning’s even-strength goals.
Alexei Emelin was on for two TB scores but continued his positive contributions to the offence, popping his second goal of the season to tie the game at 3-3 less than halfway into the the final period.
I love the defensive system the Canadiens are playing this season. But when a lineup that includes Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier goes 18 minutes without a shot on goal, you have to think something is wrong in Tampa.
The Lightning are sinking fast in a Southeast Division against which the Canadiens have feasted this season with a perfect 8-0 record. They swept two games in Tampa for the first time in six years.
It wasn’t easy.
The Canadiens dialed up yet another second-period suckfest, yielding three goals, two of which could be traced to faceoff losses in the defensive zone. Ryan Malone was an immovable force in Carey Price’s kitchen through the first 40 minutes. Steven Stamkos’s league-leading 19th goal was a consequence of Ryder responding to a borderline hit by bitching the call and taking himself out of the play. And Sami Salo was left alone in the slot when, in short order, David Desharnais lost a D-zone faceoff and Max Pacioretty lost his stick and his coverage.
So Therrien and his staff will have fodder for some video chalk-talk, if there’s time before the game against the Panthers.
A greater likelihood is the coach, who has pushed all the right buttons this season, will just tell his Canadiens to do what they’ve done through most of the season’s first 25 games:
Play hard, play smart, trust the system and your teammates … and win one for the Pruster.
• The Canadiens lead the NHL with 12 players who have 10 or more points. Brandon Prust and Alexei Emelin have nine … Carey Price‘s 13 wins lead the league … the Northeast Division has four teams with 30 or more points. The rest of the league has three … Brendan Gallagher‘s third game-winning goal tied Andrei Markov for the team lead … Michel Therrien juggled his pairings in the third period, playing P.K. with Markov and Josh Gorges with Emelin … Emelin’s 88 hits lead the team and Prust is second with 62. Third place? Lars Eller with 41.