Max Tricks Cats

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The Canadiens made their annual post Christmas trip to Florida tonight, winning their third consecutive game on the Panther's home ice

For a Canadiens team that has tended lately to play to the level of their opponants, this one promised to be a bad news snorefest. These cats aren't exactly Cup contenders. In fact my cat Tigger, seen below, has a better sniff at the Cup, even if it is just a keychain!

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Panthers have deadly claws, but the Florida Panthers have the dulled, filed down version. But for some unknown reason, they are the only NHL franchise that the Canadiens have a losing record against.

Yeah....go figure!

The Canadiens are now 24-25-6-2 in 57 games against Florida over the years, with the Habs now having outscored the Panthers 148 to 144.

Against Montreal, the Panthers always seem to administer some type of anesthetic, and pounce when least expected. The all time loss column might have more to do with beach babes, sunburns, or the Panthers hot Ice Dancers cheerleaders, but the Habs are now poised to even the all time record againt Florida. They play the Panthers again in six days, a rare 2 p.m. Sunday game at the Bell after a Saturday night off, and again on the 29th of this month back in Florida.

I was mostly curious to see if the line of Plekanec, Kostitsyn and Kovalev would put in a second strong consecutive effort against a shut down first club like the Panthers. Plekanec did play a very solid game, adding a shorhanded marker and looking much like his old self again.

But this night belonged to third year center Maxim Lapierre, whose efforts wrestled the game from the Panthers claws midway through.

It is often said that players come into their own in their third season in the league and Lapierre is no exception. He is increasingly confortable and confident on the ice and knows his role and limitations well.

Lapierre has gelled with Steve Begin to form a deadly duo, and both have contributed greatly to the Habs cause over the last 15 games. It is generally considered a bonus when fourth line players chime in with goals and points, the contributions of these two have been so regular, they've almost come to be expected

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The duo have also demonstrated some chemistry with Tom Kostopoulos and Guillaume Latendresse when lined with them, and what I find especially promising is that it spells great depth for the team. I'm not sure if there is another club in the Eastern Conference that has a fourth line this solid. It bodes well for playoff time.

I was pleasantly surprised by the tone of this game, having gotten a little too used to 1-0 and 2-1 when these teams do battle, In buildups to the contests, and after, there never seems to be a domineering storyline. Lapierre's hat changed all that.

Coach Carbonneau evidentally put Max out there with an empty net with the goal of letting go for his hat trick. What Lapierre got wasn't jusdt your standard, cheesy firing of the puck into a gaping distant space. He worked his ass off to earn that goals.

He had pierced the Panthers blueline once, one one three, to try and get deep, and ended up on his butt. He went in headlong a second time, going deep just as though he would had a goalie been in place. As the Panthers passed it up and were about to clear the zone, Lapierre demonstrated how deceptive his speed truly is, catching up to a snoozing Bryan McCabe. Max undid McCabe like child's play.

It was a sweet way to cap off a great night!

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