With the way the Montreal Canadiens were playing in March, it was beginning to get to the point where fans were wondering if Carey Price would get a chance to break the team record set by both Jacques Plante and Ken Dryden of 42 wins in a single season. Thanks to Lars Eller, he got there with a game to spare.
Not that it was all Eller, because the Canadiens played a great game against the Detroit Red Wings, a desperate team that needed at least a point to clinch their 24th straight appearance in the playoffs.
While the overriding story of the game will be Price's 43rd victory of the season, there were a ton of moments worth reliving.
Tomas Plekanec tied the game on a powerplay in the third period, scoring a goal in his third straight game, his 25th of the season. Plekanec is one point short of 60 on the season, notching his best marks since 2009-10, and the second highest goal total in his career. Plekanec's usage this year has been by no means easy, but the shift in Eller's minutes has allowed him to take on a bigger offensive role, and the results have been excellent. He's far and away the best center on the team, and he's proving it every game.
Plekanec has always had a penchant for scoring weird looking goals, but you have to admit it's crazy to see him pull this exact move three times in two weeks. Three of Plekanec's last five goals were scored this exact way.
Mr. Versatility 2.0
Ramping up to the playoffs, it comes as no surprise that Lars Eller is playing some of his best hockey of the season for the third straight year. Aside from the winning goal in overtime on an end-to-end rush, Eller played strong all game, and drew the penalty that led to Plekanec's game tying goal.
Eller's 15 goals are one off of his career high, while he's reached career highs in shots on goal and game winning goals. In fact, a whopping 46.7% of Eller's goals this season have been game winners, which lends credence to the clutch label given to him during last year's playoffs.
Eller's 14 goals at even strength puts him right behind Plekanec at 15, and has him in the same company as Bobby Ryan, Wayne Simmonds, Ryan Kesler, Tyler Toffoli, Chris Kreider, and David Perron. Something to think about for all the Eller bashers of the world.
An added bonus for those who like cool coincidences, the return in the trade that sent Jaroslav Halak out of Montreal just scored the goal that secured a team record for Carey Price. Pretty awesome.
The true unsung hero
While Dale Weise won the Jacques Beauchamp Award as the Canadiens' unsung hero of the season, is there anyone on the roster who has done as much with so little credit given to him as P.K. Subban? Subban's two assists against the Red Wings brought him to the 60 point plateau, the first Canadiens defenseman to reach it since Andrei Markov in 2008-09. Subban played 30:19 in the win, and as usual, dominated possession.
I'm not sure why it is, but while Subban and Pacioretty have both taken perfectly to their new roles as alternate captains, only Pacioretty has been given much credit for it in the media. Subban is now second in the league for scoring among defensemen, behind only Erik Karlsson, yet no one in Montreal is really talking about how great his season has been. 60 points is impressive for any defenseman, but for Subban to do it on a team that doesn't score, that has a terrible powerplay... He shouldn't just be in the Norris conversation, he should be leading it.
The hired gun
Jeff Petry has been absolutely on fire for the Canadiens of late. He's now up to three goals and four assists in his last six games, and his defensive play has opened this up for Markov, who is seeing slightly less ice time and slightly easier minutes, which has lead to two goals and five assists in six games for him.
Petry has been doing this all while playing with an anchor tied to his ankle named Alexei Emelin (whose blown coverage caused two goals against on Thursday), and you have to wonder what he could do if the coaching staff would ever wake up and pair him with Nathan Beaulieu, which would be the smoothest skating defense pairing the Habs have had in eons.
Jeff Petry isn't just good, he fits with Montreal. He is the exact kind of player you want to lock up long term, and Marc Bergevin should move heaven and earth to re-sign this guy.
The man of the hour, and season
There's not much left to say about Carey Price. He's going to win the Vezina, he's going to win the Hart, he's going to break every goaltending record the Canadiens have, except for maybe most shutouts. He's already fourth in wins, with a good chance to best Ken Dryden next year, fourth in shutouts, and second in save percentage (first with 200+ games played).
He is the king of this town, and he bears the fate of the team on his broad shoulders. While his save percentage has dipped recently, Price will finish the season with the highest save percentage in NHL history for a goaltender who won 40 games or more, and the second highest of any goaltender to play 60 or more games.
There isn't much he can't do.