In March of 2014, I had just started watching Habs games. The Canadiens were in a post-holiday slump, and Carey Price was just returning from injury. Things weren't so great for the Habs, and for a new fan, it was disheartening.
Then came March 15th. I'm a Shakespeare buff and a history lover with a Latin minor. March 15th was already a date of special significance, and the schedule makers had seen fit to bring the Ottawa Senators to the Bell Centre. The stage was set.
The game started out strong, Danny Briere scored forty-something seconds into the first period, but it quickly went down hill from there. Just over five minutes from the end of the third, it was 4-1. It looked like the Habs' slide was going to extend a little further, and the game was turning ugly.
Brandon Prust fought Milan Michalek and since he got the instigator as well, he was out of the game. Then Travis Moen, Dale Weise, and Chris Neil were thrown out of the game, with ten minute misconducts apiece. Down 4-1 in an ugly game, short their entire fourth line, it seemed like the Habs were done.
But then, with 3:22 left in the period, Lars Eller scored off a Brian Gionta rebound.
It was such a nothing goal that Eller gave a half-hearted raise of his stick and didn't even crack a smile, in what was probably the saddest celebration to end a 24 game goal-less streak ever.
4-2. A slightly less embarrassing loss, but with hardly any time left on the clock, it seemed, at least to me, that the Habs were highly unlikely to make a game of it.
But then barely a minute later, the third line was back on the ice. This time Gionta scored, assisted by P.K. Subban and Eller again. This time, Eller, his line-mates, and the Bell Centre faithful celebrated. 4-3 with 2:44 left in the period. All they needed was one more goal.
The Senators were furious, and they paid for their tempers. At 18:12, Kyle Turris was sent to the box, and the Habs would finish the game on the powerplay. Michel Therrien pulled Price and sent Brendan Gallagher out with David Desharnais, Thomas Vanek, and Max Pacioretty. The seconds slipped by. The empty Habs' net gaped, and MacArthur almost scored.
Gallagher with a shot, 37 seconds.
Vanek with a shot, 25 seconds.
Markov with a shot, seven seconds.
Pacioretty with a shot, six seconds...
Desharnais yelled at Subban to shoot the puck, three seconds, two seconds, one second...
Subban passed to Desharnais instead, he shot...the goal horn and the green light went off at once. The Bell Centre erupted.
Video review determined that the puck went in with .03 seconds left, and Francis Bouillon scored the over time, game winning goal - his first in a year, and the Montreal Canadiens became the first team in NHL history to win a game down three goals with less than five minutes left.
In his post-game press conference, Michel Therrien said that "This kind of victory at the end of a season can mark a turning point."
It was a turning point for the Habs in that season. They went on to their deepest playoff run in years, and it was a turning point for me as well. I was hooked for good, and it taught me a lot as a hockey fan.
It taught me to never give up on the Habs, as painful and futile as it has been in some games since then, because even down 4-1 with hardly ten minutes remaining, no game is over until the final buzzer sounds. It taught me that even the most insignificant goals can become the fulcrum which turns a season. It also taught me that Lars Eller is clutch, even when it doesn't seem like it at the time.
Out of the nine goals scored in that game, Eller's wasn't the flashiest, or the prettiest, or the most exciting, but the smallest pebbles can start an avalanche, and that avalanche brought down a mountain.
As Yogi Berra said, "It ain't over till it's over."