Jaroslav Halak claims there was a little luck involved in keeping the puck out of the net for most of the night against the Florida Panthers. Maybe. But luck will only take you so far when you are faced with 36 shots, and turn aside 35 of them.
Halak, in his second start of this young season, gave his hockey team a chance to win tonight. And win they did, 3-1 against a smothering Florida Panther team that threatened to take this one to overtime.
After team captain Saku Koivu opened the scoring at 2:07 of the second period, converting a backhanded seeing-eye pass from the game’s second star, Andrei Markov (Halak was the first star), the Panthers started to take the play to the Canadiens, and had the Habs chasing their tails for long stretches deep in Montreal territory. Keith Ballard, the best player on the ice for the Panthers, tied the score at 7:20 of the third period. However, Francis Bouillon saved the day for the home-town team with a long blast from the blue line to beat Tomas Vokoun with what proved to be the winning goal at 10:53 of the third.
Tomas Plekanec, in need of a goal more than anyone one else on this club, finally got his first of the season. Granted, it was an empty netter, but it was huge. With Maxim Lapierre in the box for two minutes for holding the stick (!?!?!), and Vokoun pulled for an extra attacker, the goal by Plekanec was more than just icing on the cake. It was all that, and the cherry on top.
The goal by Koivu marked the 600th point of his inspirational career with this club. It was a moment not lost on The Captain, who is clearly taking the time to stop and smell the roses this season, acknowledging after this game was over that, at this stage in his career, he doesn’t know how many more seasons he has left in him.
The goal by Bouillon came in his first game of the season, having started the year in sick bay. After playing much of the opening period up front to help ease him back into the lineup, Coach Guy Carbonneau liked what he saw from number 51 and put him back on the blue line in the third period. It was a move that paid instant dividends.
One thing’s for certain. Now that Bouillon is healthy again, look for Ryan O’Byrne to become the odd man out along the blue line. O’Byrne has not had a terrific start to the season, as witnessed by his three turnovers in less than nine minutes of ice time last night. Last season, O’Byrne saw plenty of action: from the press box. He’s destined for more of the same, based on his early play.
Tonight’s game was Kyle Chipchura’s first of the regular season. With Steve Begin joining Chris Higgins, Georges Laraque, and Andrei Kostitsyn in sick bay, Chipchura was recalled from Hamilton of the American Hockey League and played on a line with Robert Lang and Tom Kostopoulos. Chipchura saw 11:26 of ice time and put in a solid effort. Yes, he was on the ice for the Ballard goal. However, he was also on the ice for the Bouillon goal. And his biggest play of the night was one he didn’t make. It appeared that Chipchura had a chance to snag the puck that was headed to the blue line in the moments leading up to the Bouillon goal. But Chipchura never touched the puck, which ended up on Bouillon’s stick, and in the Florida net.
After bouncing back and forth from Montreal to Hamilton and back again, Chipchura a deserves a chance to unpack his bags, and call Bell Centre home for awhile.