After a winless three-game road trip against some beatable teams, the Montreal Canadiens returned home to host the Philadelphia Flyers with their playoff hopes quickly vanishing. With little more than a five percent chance to qualify for the post-season, there are no longer any games this team can afford to lose.
Dale Weise, whose name has surfaced in trade speculation recently, got things going for the Canadiens, scoring on the type of lucky bounce the team hasn't been getting much of as of late. A centring pass that deflected off of Flyers' defenseman Nick Schultz in front of the net found its way past Michal Neuvirth to give the Habs a 1-0 lead three minutes into the contest.
The Flyers answered just 10 seconds later, as Nick Cousins beat Mike Condon fairly easily with a weak shot that the Habs' netminder likely expected to go wide. Instead, Cousins managed to ring the puck off the iron and in, tying things back up and immediately sucking the life out of the Bell Centre.
P.K. Subban — the focus of a media circus since Wednesday's game against the Colorado Avalanche — had the full support of the crowd early in this game, with the fans chanting his name during his first shift, and coming alive again later as he rushed the puck up the ice.
The best scoring chance for the Canadiens (favourable centring passes aside) came halfway through the period thanks to a nice neutral zone move by Nathan Beaulieu to find some open ice. Beaulieu found Alex Galchenyuk with the pass, who in turn got the puck to Plekanec, though a sprawling Neuvirth was able to keep the game locked at one.
Both teams traded power-play opportunities late in the period, the first going to the Habs after Flyers' captain Claude Giroux was called for a hook on Andrei Markov. Unable to get much going with the man advantage, however, the Canadiens' chance was fruitless. Philadelphia's power-play unit got an opportunity with a little over a minute remaining in the frame with Sven Andrighetto going to box for a hook of his own. But the Flyers were unable to apply much pressure either, as the period ended tied 1-1.
After the Flyers opened the second controlling the flow of play, former Hab Ryan White found his way to the penalty box after hooking Paul Byron in the neutral zone. The Canadiens power play looked much improved on this go-round, with a number of dangerous looking one-timers directed at Neuvirth, though ultimately they were once again unable to convert.
The parade to the penalty box continued soon thereafter as Alexei Emelin cleared the puck over the glass and was called for delay of game, sending the Flyers to the man-advantage for the second time on the night. Like the Habs', Philadelphia's power play struggled to get anything going, and the chance went for nought.
Shayne Gostisbehere made a nice play to help break the deadlock a little over three minutes into the third period, making a cross-ice pass to Michael Raffl, who had no trouble beating Condon on the doorstep to give the Flyers their first lead of the game.
The Habs would respond later in the period, finally converting on a power play with Giroux in the box for the third time. Pacioretty unloaded a shot on goal from the face-off circle, beating Neuvirth through a screen by Eller to tie things back up at two.
The teams traded low-danger chances as the third dragged on, both Condon and Neuvirth stopping anything that did come their way. Subban brought some life to the game with just minutes remaining as he dropped Giroux on a box-out play. That was the last bit of excitement for the third as the teams headed to overtime tied at 2.
Condon came up with a great save early in the 3-on-3 period, which in turn sprung the Habs up the ice. Their possession wouldn't last long, however, as Brayden Schenn burst down the ice on a breakaway, and a good backcheck from Brendan Gallagher forced Schenn to the backhand, and he hit the post.
It was the final minute of overtime that provided the most excitement of the entire night, as the Habs had a terrific chance to end it with a frenzy around Neuvirth's net. The trio of Galchenyuk, Plekanec, and Subban had a number of great opportunities, though somehow the puck stayed out of the net with Neuvirth facing the wrong way. With only eight seconds remaining, the Flyers sped down the ice to attempt a buzzer-beater of their own, only to be stymied by Condon, sending the game to a shootout.
Galchenyuk shot first in the shootout, but was unable to lift the puck over the pad of Neuvirth. Cousins was first for the Flyers, squeezing the puck past Condon to give his team the lead early in the shootout.
Sven Andrighetto came in to try and answer for the Habs, but shot it wide, giving Giroux a chance to win with his shot. Condon, however, stood tall and managed to keep the puck out, affording Pacioretty the chance to get his team back in it. The captain made no mistake, wiring a puck top-shelf to keep the shootout going.
Wayne Simmonds, Eller, and Jakub Voracek were stopped in order before Byron managed to arc the puck over the glove and into the net past Neuvirth. Condon made another big save on Brayden Schenn, sealing the win and two points for the Canadiens.
For all of the spotlight on P.K. Subban heading into this game as a result of Michel Therrien's comments, the former Norris Trophy winner was unquestionably the Habs' most valuable player. Subban recorded two assists in the game, and likely should have had more but for some unlucky bounces in that overtime flurry. After a very impressive performance, hopefully some of the swirling speculation will die down ... just a little.
Mike Condon played a tremendous game between the pipes for the Habs, easily his best showing in quite some time. With the streaky goaltending the team has received since early December, this was a very important win for the rookie netminder, whose confidence had to be taking a hit after a string of rough games. Despite allowing a weak goal early on, he managed to bounce back and provide the backbone the team needed to get the win in this one.
Lars Eller and Max Paciorety continued to look dangerous together, making you wonder why these two hadn't been paired together before now. Time will tell if this is a duo that will stick together long term, but they have been simply getting things done on the ice together over the past two games.
Tom Gilbert did not finish this game after suffering a lower body injury, the severity of which is unknown at this time. This may have an impact on the team's trade deadline plans as Gilbert's name has been brought up as someone the Habs would be willing to part with for future assets.