I’m guessing the Montreal Canadiens didn’t much like the view from the bottom half of Eastern Conference Standings in the NHL.
Because heading into last night’s game in Dallas against the Stars, the Habs found themselves in ninth place in the East; effectively out of the playoff seedings, as a result of the fact that the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins both moved ahead of the Habs with afternoon victories.
Say what you will about the roller-coaster ride the Canadiens have been on all season long. They have managed to maintain a reasonable hold on a top-eight position in the Eastern Conference. However, consecutive losses to Buffalo and Atlanta during this three-game road trip threatened to move the Habs out of the very crowded conference playoff picture. And the Habs initially did themselves no favours last night in Dallas, thanks to a steady stream of penalties that left the Canadiens trailing 1-0 after the opening 20 minutes.
No less than nine penalties were called on Montreal in the first period, including double minors to Mathieu Schneider and Gregory Stewart. The double minor to Stewart came during a rash of penalties in the final two minutes of the opening period. As a result, when the Canadiens took to the ice for the start of the second period, there appeared to be more Habs in the penalty box than on the bench.
Certainly, they had enough bodies in the penalty box for a foursome of golf, which will come in handy in just over a month from now when the playoffs begin, if the Canadiens can not get their house in order.
Amazingly, they managed to do just that last night, despite the steady stream of Habs to the sin bin, which resulted in a number of 5 on 3 opportunities for Dallas; including one 5 on 3 power play to start the second period that stretched for more than two full minutes.
With Jaroslav Halak still feeling the effects of a nasty flu bug, Carey Price, a loser in 11 of his previous 13 starts, despite a solid performance in a 2-0 loss in Atlanta two nights earlier, managed to keep the Canadiens in this hockey game while the Habs weathered the short-handed storm. Goals by Andrei Kostitsyn and Alex Kovalev (who did not play on the same line. More on that in a moment) in the second period put the Habs ahead 2-1.
Chris Higgins sealed the deal early in the third with only his second goal in 14 games, as he caught Marty Turco wandering in the Dallas goal.
Higgins found himself playing on a line with Maxime Lapierre and Tom Kostopoulos, which is where Higgins should be: on the third line. He is not proving to be a first-line performer on this team. If Chris Higgins can, when all is said and done, be an effective third-liner, the Canadiens will be ahead of the game, when it comes to number 21.
As for Kostitsyn, he suited up with Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay, as coach Guy Carbonneau once again blew up the lines. And the move worked.
Memo to Guy Carbonneau: leave these line combinations alone.
Tanguay, back recently after a two-month injury absence, looked much more involved in the play last night, as he showed signs of shedding the rust he accumulated as a result of his extended stint in sick bay. And Kostitsyn again looked like the guy who was on fire just a few short weeks ago, when he scored in four consecutive games.
Kovalev lined up with Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty, and that line, too, showed some spark. Not entirely surprising when you consider that Pacioretty ooked right at home with Plekanec, and Kostitsyn, while Kovalev was sitting out his two-game forced vacation.
The fourth line featured Glen Metropolit, Matt D’Agostini and Gregory Stewart, who showed some spunk out there last night, despite the penalty trouble he found himself in. In the process, Stewart finally gave us an indication why Steve Begin became expendable. Stewart could very well end up providing more “team toughness” (as The Coach likes to put it) than Georges Laraque ever did. Despite the fact that, unlike Laraque, Stewart is no heavyweight.
Bottom line: The Canadiens return home with a much-needed “W”, and a huge two points. Despite the fact that the victory came against an injury-depleted Stars’ team, the Canadiens desperately needed to win one in front of Carey Price.
And they did just that.
Still, the Canadiens have given us precious little indication that they are prepared to roll up their sleeves and fight the good fight over the remaining 16 regular-season games. That’s what will be needed over the next month so that when they wake up on the morning of April 12th, they will be packing their bags for first-round playoff action.
And not a golfing vacation.