It’s not every day that your number one line is sitting in the press box.

But that could indeed be the case when the Canadiens return to action Friday in New Jersey after closing out the 2008 calendar year with three victories in four nights; win number three coming last night in Tampa thanks to a 2-1 shootout decision over the Bolts.

The fact that the Lightning have jerseys with the gawd-awful nickname BOLTS plastered on the front is a conversation for another day.

By the time this one was over, Alex Tanguay had shaved, showered and was making his way to the team bus with his left arm in a sling.  Three shifts into his game, Tanguay was taken into the boards, hard, by Evgeny Artyukhin and gingerly made his way to the locker room,  never to be seen again.  His night over, after just 1:43 of ice time.  The injury forced Guy Carbonneau to shorten his bench on a night when the Canadiens were clearly somewhat wobbly-legged as a result of three games in four nights.

However, both goaltender Carey Price and forward Guillaume Latendresse gave the Canadiens a chance to come away with at least one point against the BOLTS.  Price slammed the door after surrendering a first-period goal to Vinnie Prospal.  After the two teams skated through a scoreless second period, the recently rejuvenated Latendresse notched his fifth of the season when he poked a backhander past Mike Smith through a pile of bodies, just :46 into period number three.

Truth be told, the Canadiens were the better team over the final 25 minutes of this hockey game.  Robert Lang had a chance to win it in regulation on a breakaway at the 14-minute mark of the third, but failed to convert.  And with five seconds showing on the clock, Andrei Kostitsyn rattled one off the post. Then, in O.T., Maxim Lapierre was robbed by Smith, with the BOLTS’ goaltender down and out in his crease: nothing but air for Lapierre to shoot at.

He missed.

However, Lapierre didn’t miss in the shootout.  After Alex Kovalev opened the round of shots with a goal, Lapierre beat Smith to give Montreal a 2-1 advantage, setting the stage for Lecavalier vs. Price.  And Price won that battle, giving the Canadiens another two points and a 2-1 victory.

While Price celebrated in the crease with a pose that looked like a cross between an archer and Hulk Hogan, Alex Tanguay didn’t look like a man who was going to do much celebrating as he made his way to the team bus, grim faced, sporting that sling on his left arm.  Tanguay has struggled of late after opening the season in explosive fashion playing on a line with Latendresse, and then Chris Higgins, along with Saku Koivu.  The goals were coming in bunches for the former Calgary Flame.  Not any more. Just exactly how long Tanguay is lost to this club remains to be seen.  But, for now, at least, he joins his former linemates Koivu (lower body) and Higgins (upper body) in sick bay.  And perhaps in the press box for Friday’s game in New Jersey, pending the results of an MRI.

In the meantime, the question is:  who will the Canadiens call up from Hamilton if Tanguay remains out of action? The two obvious candidates would be Kyle Chipchura and Max Pacioretty.  Interesting to see that both of those two young men are playing their best hockey of the season down on the farm, as whitnessed by their performance in last night’s 4-0 win over the Toronto Marlies at Copps Colliseum in Hamilton.  Chipchura notched his 10th of the season while  Pacioretty, who is finally beginning to feel comfortable with his move from the university ranks to the American Hockey League,  scored his fifth in his best performance of the season.

My suggestion?  If the Canadiens need to make a personel move as a result of the injury to Tanguay, they should call up both Chipchura and Pacioretty, and send Ben Maxwell back down to Hamilton.  Maxwell is clearly not ready for prime time.  Chipchura would replace Maxwell at centre, and Pacioretty would replace Tanguay at wing. IF Tanguay needs to be replaced at wing.

We’ll know more after Tanguay’s New Years’ date with an MRI machine.

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