Lang Bangs Three, And Gangs Set Halak Free, In Win Over Rangers
When the game on the markee reads "Montreal Canadiens versus the New York Rangers", I like to call it the "Drive For 25" versus the "Drive For 5".
I think of it as Original Six mathematics.
The Rangers are just one of two Original Six teams I do not warm to. The other is tonight's opponant. I call those rivals, 67 divided by 13, minus 42.
When it comes to games against the Rangers, recent history has offered some very memorable contests. The February 19, 2008 6-5 Habs comeback game quickly comes to mind.
The image of Alex Kovalev flat on his back in extacy after scoring the tying goal, with all fours raised in the air, is forever attached to that game. It is one of those unforgettable burned onto the brain images that never leaves a fan. It's almost as precious as the Roy wink.
Games between the Blueshirts and Habs have tended to be offensive tilts in recent seasons, even when a low score doesn't reflect the play. These games give me a sweaty palm nervousness, because the Rangers, like the Canadiens, are a chameleon - like rival. Their lineup looks very offensive, their coach Tom Renney is a defensive technical guru, and they have a goalie in Henrik Lundqvist, who is good enough to beat a team all by himself.
For reasons unexplained, all that blows right out the window against Montreal, who have now won the last three games against NYR by scores of 6-5, 6-2, and 6-3.
Still, I have shivers thinking of players such as former Ranger, and current Leaf, Dominic Moore, who in his very first NHL game, rose from the woodwork to notch three assists to undo the Habs. Another solid pounding of the Rangers and that might just be forgotten.
In last night's 6-3 win over the Rangers two players names were on everyone's lips - goalie Jaroslav Halak and center Robert Lang.
Halak was all the concern before the puck drop, and Lang was the talk after it.
I, along with a handy slice of Habs fandom, was pretty rough on Halak a few games back. His seemingly unfocused play deserved the heightened alert. Number 41 has been as unorthodox as the numeral on his back at times, but I'm willing to take a step back and admit I was harsh on him. Honestly, what I don't like about him is that he isn't Carey Price. That sounds alot more like my problem than his.
Against the Rangers, Halak did his job. He made most of the saves expected of him, and minimized the blunders, nervousness, giveaways, and generous rebounds that characterized his last two starts. Above all, he did enough of the right things to win, stopping 36 of 39 Ranger shots.
Until the return of Price, Montreal hockey madness will scope Halak's every twitch as though he is the team's number one stopper. As unfair as that seems, that's the deal when playing for the Canadiens, and it will never change. If Carey Price were to be reinjured on the eve of the playoffs, the current demands placed on Halak would not change one iota.
Robert Lang produced the Canadiens third hat trick in the last six games. After Andrei Kostitsyn and Maxim Lapierre turned the trick recently, Lang delivered of his all in a single period, for what purists like to term a natural hat trick.
Lang was on mind earlier in the day, as news came forth that Mats Sundin would play his first contest in a Vancouver Canucks (damn ugly) uni on this night. In the present tense, I can't help but align Lang and Sundin in the same thought frame.
Mats was Bob Gainey's Habs summertime Plan A, and Lang, turned out the be Plan B.
I initially had reservations about Lang's game, upon news of his acquisition. Once word came that he drove almost immediately from Chicago to Montreal, upon learning he had been traded, made me doubt my initial apprehensions a great deal. During one of his first collisions with Montreal media, a relaxed and composed Lang was tendered the Sundin - you are the Plan B - question, and he gave it the ultimate backhand.
"Too bad for Mats!"
I've liked this guy ever since!
Robert Lang deserves the accolades he will receive from last night's performance against the Rangers. He also deserves a good bit more. Among them, he should have been one of the Canadiens players voted to the NHL All Star game.
The other, is a wish so apparent, he need not even verbalize it.
Robert Lang wants to be a Montreal Canadien in their 101st NHL season, and he's making his point.
Who would have thought, five months back, such a scenario would make as much sense?
Photos courtesy of Montreal Canadiens.com.