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Canadiens overcome officiating, adversity to stay alive

Questionable officiating, two leads blown, but the Canadiens refused to quit.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Montreal Canadiens at Philadelphia Flyers John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

It has become a running joke among Montreal Canadiens fans that it’ll be a bad night if Chris Lee is wearing the bands. Facing elimination against the Philadelphia Flyers, it was rather concerning for many to see him assigned to the game as a referee.

For the first 20-plus minutes, it actually went pretty well. Joel Armia gave the Habs a lead in the first period, and the calls were going both ways, so there wasn’t much to complain about.

Of course, everything went off the rails early in the second frame. Jesperi Kotkaniemi went in for a hit on Travis Sanheim; the latter turned into the boards to avoid the hit, while the former didn’t relent and came slightly off his feet at the point of contact. The refs actually took the time to review the play, ultimately determining it was worth five minutes and a game misconduct.

It was definitely a penalty, but there’s no way it was worth what they gave him.

Sanheim turned to avoid the hit as he dumped the puck into the Montreal zone. That being said, it is Kotkaniemi’s responsibility to let up when that happens, and certainly his responsibility to keep his feet on the ice through the hit. Again, it’s clearly a penalty, but to call that a five minute major and eject one of the Habs’ best forwards from the game, is a complete joke.

Any questionable hit that puts a player out of the game can give cause for a major penalty, but Sanheim didn’t miss a shift, and it felt completely unfair to Kotkaniemi and the Habs. The Flyers would score twice on the ensuing power play, and it felt like the kiss of death to their playoff run.

But I digress. The Canadiens refused to allow Chris Lee and Kyle Rehman’s decision to punch their ticket to the golf courses. They battled back in a big way.

Joel Armia scored first to tie it. Then Brendan Gallagher — who has been throwing everything up to and including the kitchen sink at the net without scoring — finally broke through to regain the lead. They did it. They evaded what most of us fans felt was an undeserved fate.

Of course, a disallowed Nick Suzuki goal — due to Jonathan Drouin being several feet offside, not referee related — and a subsequent Joel Farabee goal to tie the game for the Flyers, dealt them another dose of adversity.

But it didn’t matter. This team didn’t allow the questionable call to sink them, and they weren’t about to allow this second dose to do it either. Drouin made up for his earlier mistake by finding Suzuki out front, and the lead was restored.

Phillip Danault would seal the deal with an empty-net goal, but of course the rough stuff didn’t stop. Sean Couturier, for whatever reason, felt it necessary to blast an unsuspecting Artturi Lehkonen as he celebrated the goal and impending victory.

I’d be interested to see if there is any supplemental discipline handed out by the league to either Kotkaniemi or Couturier. I don’t think there will be, but if the league elects to discipline either player, it stands to reason that they must discipline the other.

I found it interesting that the officials merely hit Couturier with a two minute minor and 10-minute misconduct versus what they gave Kotkaniemi. At that point it didn’t matter since the game was over, but you could argue that hitting a player after a goal and in open ice is as bad or worse than what Kotkaniemi did.

For the record, I wouldn’t argue for a five and a game on Couturier either. The problem I see is that Kotkaniemi was over-penalized for what he did. If you’re going to call everything strictly, at least be consistent with those calls.

What is expected to be reviewed by the league was a late cross-check by Matt Niskanen, directly to the face of Gallagher, which may have casued the latter to suffer a fracture. No penalty was assessed on the play, of course, as the refs had apparently decided to put away their whistles in the dying minutes of the game.

Alas, it was a great game of hockey. It was easily the most exciting game of this series so far. The resilient Habs forced a game six, and gave hope that we can expect a similar effort in said game.

I, for one, hope and pray that Chris Lee doesn’t get the assignment for that one.