The clock is ticking on this Montreal Canadiens season. It seems a foregone conclusion that they’ll miss the playoffs for a third straight season, but as long as it’s still a mathematical possibility for them to get in, you can’t fault them for trying.
A win against the Florida Panthers — one of the teams they’ll need to beat in order to pull off a miracle run — would go a long way towards that end. With a back-to-back coming up against Columbus on Sunday, this game was beyond crucial if they were hoping to hold on to their playoff hopes.
They got exactly the kind of start they would need. Just over five minute in, Nick Suzuki walked into the offensive zone with space, and fired an absurdly quick shot to beat Sergei Bobrovsky down low to make it 1-0 for the home team.
It was a mostly dominant first frame for the Habs, but despite this they still went into the break with just the one goal lead. Luckily they kept their foot on the gas, and kept pressuring to extend the lead. Just over five minutes into the frame, Jeff Petry put a shot on goal and Artturi Lehkonen was able to deflect it through the five-hole of Bobrovsky to make it 2-0.
Roughly 10 minutes later, they would add to that lead, as Phillip Danault found Tomas Tatar just outside the crease for the 3-0 tally.
Brendan Gallagher would add yet another insurance marker to make it 4-0 just over 10 minutes into the third, tipping in another Petry shot to give the defenseman his fourth assist of the afternoon.
And that was all she wrote. Carey Price earned a shutout to pass Ken Dryden in that category on the Habs’ all-time list, and the team gets a chance tomorrow to put themselves in a position to accomplish a run that most of us, myself included, thought was out of the question.
The Blue Jackets are another team ahead of the Habs in the race for a wildcard spot, so they had better come to play if it is something they want to make a reality. There is zero margin for error, so they have to bring the same standard of play they set on this Saturday afternoon.
- The Panthers were coming off a long break, but they are a playoff team, and the Habs dominated them. I am still extremely skeptical about Montreal’s ability to pull off a miracle run to the playoffs, but this win was mandatory if it is still something they’re trying to pull off. If not, just the fact that they can win like that against a team headed to the playoffs means they might not be so far from being competitive.
- My feelings on this season have been made clear, as I’ve advocated for selling. However, if they can win their next three games starting tomorrow, I could get on the bandwagon. A win over Columbus would be huge, then they’ll have two winnable games against the Devils and Ducks. Take all three of these games, and I’ll be a lot more interested in next weekend’s tilt with the Maple Leafs. It is a longshot, but who doesn’t love a good comeback story?
- Nick Suzuki seems determined to do whatever he can to help the comeback effort. Even if you take away his goal, he was unreal, and it’s a hugely positive sign for the future of this team that he seems to be getting better by the day. He looks faster than he was at the start of the year. If the comeback can’t happen, Habs fans can take solace in the fact that he looks like the real deal.
- Jeff Petry was also unreal, and earned himself the first star of the game. If the rumours of teams calling the Habs to inquire about his services are true, the price just went up a little. As much as I have advocated to trade other players on the roster, Petry is one where I’d give a little more pause. That being said, if the team is out by the deadline, they have to consider offers, because he’s likely to draw very serious interest with the way he’s playing.
- Carey Price passed Ken Dryden on the all-time shutout list with a great, if unspectacular performance. He didn’t have a lot of work on the night, but the Panthers did manage some quality chances in the third. Price has faced criticism this year for his play, but if you take out the horrid month of November, his numbers are very good. If a miracle run is really in the cards, they need him to play like this as much as possible.
- When will Phillip Danault get some legitimate consideration for the Selke Trophy? His assist was great if a tad lucky, but he made numerous impressive defensive plays that stood out even more. It will be almost criminal if he isn’t at least a finalist for the award this summer. He needs to be recognized for what he’s done on a struggling team.
Less than 24 hours before some more Habs action. After that, we can all sit down and enjoy the Super Bowl.