At least three teams are reportedly interested in the availability of Ilya Kovalchuk. According to Eric Engels, the Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames, and Edmonton Oilers might like to see if they could deal with the Montreal Canadiens for his services. But even with all of the reported interest, the aging Russian is making a very compelling case to stay in la belle province.
At 36-years-old, he still has the ability to be the type of difference maker that the Habs were lacking for most of this season. He stole the show yet again, and celebrated accordingly.
When Nick Suzuki gets the breakaway, that is the opportunity you might expect to end the game. He gets poke-checked, however, and it’s up to the trailing Kovalchuk to pounce on the loose puck. It’s a finisher’s goal, and it secured an incredibly valuable two points for a Habs team that seems determined to hang on to their playoff hopes.
I’ve stated numerous times that I believe the best thing for the Habs to do is to capitalize on Kovalchuk’s trade value, but he is finisher that the Habs have been lacking all year. This is going to make it harder for them to let him go, particularly if they can continue this streak.
It definitely wasn’t his best game in a Habs uniform. He was sub-50% in on-ice shot attempts-for, and he was on the ice when John Tavares put the Habs down by one in the early goings of the third period. But the Habs were never a bad possession team, they lacked finish, and the fact that he provides them with some of that just might make the race to the playoffs a lot more interesting than it was supposed to be.
That he managed to show that finish against Toronto — on a night where the Florida Panthers also lost — gives hope to Canadiens fans. Whether that hope is misplaced or not remains to be seen, but all of a sudden the idea of this team sneaking into the playoffs seems considerably less crazy than it did even a week ago.
They still have a long way to go, but last night was a massive step in the right direction. I still think that moving Kovalchuk is a logical conclusion to this story, but if he can steal a few more games before the trade deadline, he might put them in a position where they need him around to finish the run.
And after that goal, and the raucous celebration that followed, I’m finding it hard to accept that he should leave despite my personal opinion on the matter.