Once in awhile great things can happen in hockey, and last night we witnessed what we were all hoping to see, the best hockey game involving the Habs this season. Heading into the game I expressed a few different times that I was annoyed that I had looked forward to this game since the schedule was announced, assuming that the Canadiens would be as good as last season, and the Blackhawks would be themselves.
Based on those assumptions, and the fact that both teams played exciting, speed driven, transition games with very little goonery, I was hoping for a classic game. A game similar to the last time Chicago visited Montreal, where P.K. Subban's rocket in overtime punched the Habs' ticket for the playoffs in the 2010-11 season.
With the way the Habs had played over the last 20 or so games, I thought the chances of a repeat of that were off the table. I was wrong.
From the drop of the puck in the first it was a performance to remember from a Habs team that's done nothing but disappoint of late. Aided by a couple of early penalty calls against the Hawks, Montreal jumped out to a hefty possession lead early, though neither team could crack through the two goaltenders, who were exceedingly sharp.
An Andrei Markov wrist shot snuck between George Parros' legs of all people and found the net behind Corey Crawford just under 13 minutes into the second period, with the play set up by Alexei Emelin and Michael Bournival, whose assist on the play broke an 18 game pointless drought for the rookie.
The Hawks had a brief flurry after the goal, drawing a penalty with great forecheck pressure as P.K. Subban flipped the puck over the glass, but it was the Habs that had the best chances while shorthanded, with Brandon Prust being sprung for a breakaway, and Lars Eller following up on it with a chance to put the puck past a sprawling Crawford, who made a miraculous save with his skate to keep the Hawks within one.
Montreal held a wide edge in play for the remainder of regulation, but the Hawks are such a dangerous team. One mistake can cost you everything against a team that talented, and that's exactly what happened. Josh Gorges couldn't make up his mind about who he wanted to cover on a Hawks rush, and his hesitance allowed Patrick Sharp to spring Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa for a 2-on-1 break, and Subban wasn't in great position to stop them, which allowed for an easy tap in for Hossa.
Despite several great chances, Montreal couldn't solve Crawford before the end of regulation, and Carey Price did his job to keep the game tied on several good looks for Chicago.
In overtime, Tomas Plekanec went to a whole other level, even though he was phenomenal all game long, turning into a one man wrecking crew in the Hawks' zone. He took a great outlet pass from Subban to for his initial shot, stripped Toews of the puck for another, then outbattled Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews at the same time, eluding Brent Seabrook to set up a third chance as he skated to the bench to change spots with Desharnais. From there Max Pacioretty tried to feed Desharnais, but his pass was deflected by a stick, only to go right to Andrei Markov, who beat Crawford once again to win it in overtime.
To be clear, I don't think this game is guaranteed to lead anywhere for the Canadiens, who still have a ton of work to do to get back to playing competitive hockey, but there was lots to be positive about.
Therrien moving Travis Moen up with Plekanec and Brian Gionta was a stroke of genius, as that trio backed by Subban and Gorges ran roughshod over one of the best lines in the league, limiting Toews, Hossa, and Sharp to 7 shots, while they put 17 on Crawford.
Plekanec put 11 shots on net himself, the first Canadien to do it since... himself... in 2008.
They weren't the only line that was impressive though, as Lars Eller, Rene Bourque, and Daniel Briere had a preposterously great game. What will likely be remembered is Eller not putting home that chance with Crawford down and out, but what was incredible about that line is that they carried a Fenwick above 70%, in spite of being saddled with Douglas Murray for nearly the entire time they were out there.
Daniel Briere was on the ice for 10 Habs scoring chances, and none for the Hawks. Briere!
The only line that really struggled was Brendan Gallagher with Pacioretty and Desharnais, and even though they had difficulty containing Patrick Kane, I really liked the way Desharnais stuck with Kane in the Habs' zone. They didn't outplay Kane by any stretch, but Desharnais' agility was a good foil for Kane's, and they kept them off the scoreboard, which is what counts more than anything.
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