For one fleeting, five-shot flurry at the end of second period, Montreal was in control. The Habs cycled the puck effectively, taking total control and coming within inches of tying up what was a one-goal game. Sadly, they couldn't breach Niemi, and would leave the period with only the satisfaction of having come close.
Ultimately, the Habs would take away that same sense of accomplishment, but no points in the standings. The Canadiens hung tough with the best team in the NHL, but could never sustain the offensive pressure necessary to win.
The game started innocently enough, with the teams trading chances and Montreal stymieing two early San Jose powerplays. The second penalty kill was especially impressive, with the Habs controlling the puck and even breaking in for an odd-man rush.
Then, the Sharks took over. Early in the second period, San Jose earned their third consecutive powerplay. This time, they wouldn't be denied. With, for some reason, the Habs fourth line on the ice and backed by the Bouillon-Beaulieu pairing, Logan Couture tipped home a Joe Thornton pass to give the Sharks all of the offence they need. Thankfully, Thornton maintained his decency throughout the exchange and resulting celebration.
San Jose would seal the deal with a fluky goal, when a long dump-in caromed off the glass to the front of the Montreal crease. With Carey Price already out of his net to account for the puck's presumed trajectory, the Habs were powerless to stop Couture from tapping in his second of the night.
Even in a game where San Jose was mostly in control, Montreal had a few positives. Carey Price was again excellent, extending his run of fantastic play that has stretched for the duration of the 2013-14 season. The Habs also enjoyed another good night from the EGG line, who were responsible for a significant portion of Montreal's best periods of pressure and chances. A beautiful Lars Eller tip was quite possibly the Canadiens best opportunity on the evening.
Montreal also suffered under what appeared to be a definite disparity in the officiating. While Montreal's infractions were mostly well-earned, much of the hooking and holding performed by San Jose was left uncalled. The Sharks ended up with only one penalty on the night, an irony which was underlined by a post-game interview in which first star Couture preached the importance of "checking with your legs, not your stick."
The bottom line is that, despite a good effort from the Canadiens, the strongest team got the victory. Now, Montreal will head South until they arrive at the opposite end of the spectrum - the struggling New York Rangers, who will open a renovated Madison Square Garden in search of the points necessary to distance themselves from such luminaries as the Philadelphia Flyers and Buffalo Sabres. With a performance similar to yesterday's, it will be Montreal strengthening their playoff standing in this early going.
For reaction from the winning side, check out Fear The Fin. Fancy stats for the game are at Extra Skater.
More from Eyes On The Prize:
- REPORT: Louis Leblanc called up to the Canadiens
- Patrick Holland's trip to Hamilton has been canceled
- Breaking Down Film - Defending the 2-on-1
- Highlights of the Habs' 2-0 loss to San Jose
- Bulldogs topple Comets and claim first place