There's nobody on the planet that could have predicted the outcome of Tuesday night's game at the Bell Centre. If you did, can you pick my lottery numbers for today's draw.
Carey Price made 35 saves (19 in the third period) for his second shutout of the season. It was clearly a night of redemption for the B.C. native, who suffered a humiliating 7-1 defeat before his hometown crowd last season.
"I just tried to do everything the right way and do everything fundamentally sound," Price said. "When you do that, some nights everything comes together perfectly." The young goaltender also noted that he had last season's disappointment in the back of his mind, and had no intentions of a repeat performance. No problem there.
Nineteen of Price's saves came in the third period, with 8 of them in the final 3:09, and included some big saves in the dying seconds to preserve the win.
The Canadiens defense, notably the penalty killing unit, came up big against one of the toughest offenses in the league. Despite the presence of referee, who actually called a fair game for a change, the Canadiens managed to stop the NHL's No.1 power play (a staggering 30% on the road) on four occasions.
Jaroslav Spacek finally emerged from his cocoon and, along with Roman Hamrlik, thwarted off the Canucks' top line of Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, and Alex Burrows for most of the game. Andrei Markov is regaining his All-Star level, scoring his first goal of the season and recorded just under 25 minutes of ice time.
Montreal also maintained puck control by out dueling the top-ranked face-off team in the league. Scott Gomez was perfect in the offensive zone, while Tomas Plekanec and Jeff Halpern controlled the defensive zone. Halpern was 7 for 7 against the Canucks Henrik Sedin on the night.
After a previous four minute power play looked more like it belonged to the Canucks, fans were suggesting that a "declined penalty rule" be suggested by Pierre Gauthier at the next session of GM's meetings. The five-on four looked more line advantage, Vancouver as the Canucks aggressive style led to a 3 on 1 rush.
Candiens coach Jacques Martin then stirred the pot by placing the PhD line. (Benoit Pouliot, Halpern and Mathieu Darche) on the next power play. The move worked and drew the attention if the regular first wave. They finally managed to find the back of the net at 4:49 of the third period, with just seven seconds left with the extra man.
It was just the fourth power play goal in 2010-11 for the Habs, and first goal of the season for Hamrlik. The veteran defenceman has factored in all of the Canadiens goals this season with the man advantage. Yeah, not Markov. Not P.K. Subban. Roman Hamrlik.
As often as I question his methods, Canadiens coach Jacques Martin came out looking like a genius on Tuesday. With Montreal holding a one-goal lead late in the second period, he called a time out. For some, myself included, it seemed like an odd time. In truth, Martin knew that the Canucks would begin to press offensively, and wanted to sustain the lead entering the third period. His gamble paid off.
Martin also did a great job of countering the line moves of his Vancouver counterpart Alain Vigneault, citing his strategy as that of a chess game by matching lines throughout the night. It's not necessarily that easy, considering the Canucks have had great success rolling four lines thus far in the season, but Martin pulled it off.
In a game that Martin felt was their most complete of the year, the Montreal Canadiens proved they can compete against a legit Western Conference contender. They'll get another chance to test themselves Thursday night on the road, when the face the loathed Boston Bruins.
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