It was a story we thought we’ve seen before. The Montreal Canadiens playing a strong first period allow a late goal to their opponent. Even worse, they allow a second goal early in the second period.
That usually is when the team folds. On Friday against the Winnipeg Jets they didn’t. They scored five of the game’s next six goals en route to a 5-3 win.
While that game was going on, the Ottawa Senators were waiting for their game against the Canadiens on Saturday. Again, that’s usually a disaster. Five previous times this season, the Canadiens had back-to-back games against an opponent different than the night before. Five times that resulted in a loss.
As you know, the Canadiens fell behind that game 2-0 as well. They ended up forcing overtime before winning 3-2.
The results on their own were great. Those four points pretty much solidified them a spot in the playoffs — as well as in striking range of the Winnipeg Jets for third place. Any combination of five points won by Montreal or lost by Calgary will eliminate the Flames. That number is nine for the Vancouver Canucks (to avoid any theoretical tie breaker).
What really stuck out for me was the way the wins happened. For weeks, they have said what needs to be done. They have said they don’t play differently when they allow the first goal or fall behind. They have said back to back games was not an excuse. For weeks, nothing really seemed to change on the ice.
Then, all of a sudden, against Winnipeg they just looked different. They had support for the puck carrier on the breakout. They started to generate time and chances in the opponent’s zone. They were putting pressure on the opponent. Defenders were stepping up at every line to stop the opponent’s rush.
Quite frankly, they looked like a different team. Whether it was the proverbial switch that was flicked, or a lightbulb that went off with understanding the system Dominique Ducharme is trying to implement, everything worked itself out.
The mental hurdles that this team playing without confidence went away. They looked confident again.
For weeks, the Canadiens were putting on a brave face throughout the slump. Finally, their best game came through.
Ducharme said earlier in the year that every team goes through two slumps. Adversity for any team in a season — even (or maybe especially) a shortened 56 game one — is normal. It can be useful, but only if you get through it.
With their starting goaltender, three letter-bearing players, and a top-six forward currently out, with a gruelling schedule that is very condensed and among the busiest in the league over the last few weeks, and with a new coach trying to implement his system, there has been plenty of adversity for the Canadiens.
If the last two games are any indication, they may just be making their way through it.