It's March 29 in sunny Florida, and the Canadiens are enjoying some time on the golf course in Florida; hopefully for the last time for the next, say, ten weeks.
Tonight, they meet the Florida Panthers. They're on Mike Weaver's old stomping grounds; he played here for four seasons. Carey Price is in nets, and Weaver's in the starting lineup.
Puck drop, and Max Pacioretty is denied but Thomas Vanek finds the back of the net in a subsequent play. The Desvanetty line gets more success when Pacioretty scores another to make the score 2-0. George Parros gets into a fight in what's his old rink, too, and in a common theme for him this season, he gets whipped down to the ice, and whipped off the ice for observation.
In the second, Gallagher gets a skate to the face and is taken to be checked out but comes back to the bench. The Desvanetty line then works more magic and Pacioretty scores his second goal of the game, 3-0 Habs. Before the end of the period the Panthers manage to score on Price though, to make it 3-1. The rest of the game is not eventful, other than an empty net goal in the third for a 4-1 Habs win.
April Fools, er, April 1. Game day against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The boys are practicing after having a day off on the beach. Brendan Gallagher is sunburnt and Thomas Please Stay Vanek gives him a vigorous pat on the back then cracks up when Gally protests. Everyone's in a playful mood as guess who ... Alex Galchenyuk and P.K. Subban roughhouse on the ice.
We visit Laurier-Station, Quebec, to trace Masterton Trophy nominee David Desharhnais' hockey roots. His dad Gilbert stands in front of the house where he says David "grew" up, complete with air quotes and a grin. You know, because David's short. His mom Gaetane Coté shows us the home's guest room, which she uses as a type of museum for all things David, filled with trophies and jerseys. We also meet siblings Stephane and Melanie, who describe an easy-going relationship growing up, especially united by their love of hockey and other sports. David talks about how five-years-older Stephane liked making David lose at hockey, because David really hated losing. Stephane is the one who taught him how to play. We also meet Julien Coté, Gaetane's brother, who goes to their house "every day" for lunch. They must really love him. Julian and Gilbert worked at the same factory back in the day so I guess the tradition stuck. They talk about how the kids would all play hockey together between going back and forth to school each day, and they show a picture of teeny-tiny David tending goal, and as the family recalls it at the lunch table, they all crack up.
We then go to the arena where David grew up playing, and meet former coach Jean-Pierre Lamontagne who tells us that even back then, others were fixated on his size or lack thereof and would tell him how tough it was going to be on him. Jean-Pierre was "the first to believe in" David, and when Gilbert went to him for the straight goods, wanting to know if David was going to make the cut or not, JP told him yes - David was his best player. Indeed, in one of his first seasons as a boy, he had 70 goals and 50 assists. In TWENTY EIGHT games. DD wore a green helmet, and players on other teams would jeer "little green helmet" at him, but that soon evolved into "little green devil!" Also as a boy, his parents had him and his sister enrolled in traditional dance, in which he participated for seven years. When it came time to choose between hockey and the jig, though a difficult decision, David went with hockey, he says with a laugh.
In minor junior, David was trying to get on the Canadiens and played in Hamilton, where he ended up getting cut in the biggest disappointment of his career. He went to Cincinatti, and even wondered if he'd even keep playing, describing the East Coast league as the Slap Shot movie; all there was was fighting. David asked his older brother if he should go to Europe or just quit ... but in the end he couldn't just stop playing hockey. Stephane told him there is only one shot at the NHL. David went on to have his best season ever, winning every personal achievement: scorer, league MVP and playoff MVP; his team won the playoffs, too.
David went back to play in Hamilton, and as he and the family describe with growing smiles and emotion the day he got the call to go and play with the big boys against Pittsburgh that night, I find myself cheering in my living room and maybe with a little something in my eye. He couldn't catch a flight to meet the team, so they sent him a limo. What a day. The whole family describes going to David's first game at the Bell Centre, his brother can't contain his emotions, and Gilbert talks about not being able to specifically pay attention to the game, because in his mind all the memories of David's early tenacious and determined hockey career resurfaced and being there watching him in the NHL was an indescribable moment. And okay now I'm really blubbering. And I really like how David got this Masterton nomination; coming off a spectacular season that started out shaky to say the least, and being the hero in so many key wins - this is quite the comeback and this guy has tremendous, tremendous character and intestinal fortitude. A perfect example of never giving up even when you're being told you cannot achieve something.
I gave that story four paragraphs because it deserved it. And also I know I've previously said I want to be adopted by the Budajs but I can totally split my time between them and the Desharnaises.
Okay, back to game day. The Habs are facing Tampa in the battle for second place in the division. Coach Michel Therrien reminds them of all the big games they've won lately, Boston, Toronto, Detroit - and gamers like big games. The game begins, and the Lightning are ravenous for a goal, and Carey Price comes up huge with saves. Gallagher opens the scoring for the Habs. In the second, Price continues to be great but Tampa Bay manages to tie it. Price however is then even more amazing, with the "we're not worthy" bows coming from Habs fans in the Tampa arena.
At second intermission, a much more concerned Therrien marches into the dressing room to tell the guys to all have a great third period. In a big game, you can't have a "fair" game, you have to have a great game. He gets everyone to agree and be on the same page.
In the third, Tampa scores on Price on a breakaway to get the lead. Price then denies Stamkos on a shot, and laughs afterwards. However, the Habs lose 3-1 after pulling Price from the net. Can't win 'em all, but this is one game where they would have liked to come away with at least a point.
It's now April 4 and the boys are in Ottawa to face the Senators again. Peter Budaj will play in nets. Puck drop, and the Senators, also hungry not for division placement but to avenge their embarrassing previous loss to the Habs, where the Habs had a three-goal deficit with 3:22 left in the game and tied it, then won in overtime. Ottawa takes six minutes now to put the puck past Budaj three times - another three-goal lead, just like that. And then. Markov gets a crazy-angle goal to make it 3-1, and Mike Weaver scores to narrow the lead to one. Then Max Pacioretty ties the game, and another three-goal deficit is erased, this time before the first period ends.
In the second, Lars Eller gets another goal, after being the one who mounted the comeback against Ottawa last time. Ottawa gets a goal waved off due to goalie interference, and Ottawa coach is none too pleased. Ottawa is now losing and also losing their cool, taking cheap shots against Gally and Daniel Briere, with Galchenyuk and Jarred Tinordi coming to their respective defences. Pacioretty then gets a breakaway to make the score 5-3, good guys. Chris Neil goes all Chris Neil on Brendan Gallagher, only to have a pile of Canadiens descend upon him. Later on the bench, a very serious Gerard Gallant warns Gally to "stay away from Neil." The whole bench, including Gally, seems to think this is funny. Gallant does not, and underlines, "He's going home in a week and a half. Okay?"
In the second intermission, a confident team is in pretty good spirits in the dressing room, and captain Brian Gionta tells the team, "Let's go and finish these boys off!"
In the third, Pacioretty completes his hat-trick as the hats rain down onto the ice in the Canadian Tire Centre. The Desvanetty line keeps on ticking as David Desharnais gets another goal for the Habs. 7-3! The final score is 7-4 but obviously it's all good. After the game as the boys are packing up to go back home, Mike Weaver asks hat-tricker Pacioretty if he wants his own press conference room, to which Pacioretty humbly cracks up.
Thus ends the penultimate episode of the season - one more to go before the playoffs!