Well, well, well. All of a sudden, the trade that sent Chris Higgins, a couple of prospects, and a journeyman defenceman to the New York Rangers for Scott Gomez and Tom Pyatt isn’t looking like such a bad deal for the Canadiens, after all.
You do recall that trade, don’t you? The deal that was made prior to the start of free-agent frenzy during the most-recent off season: when Gainey sent Higgins, Doug Janik, and prospects Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko to the Rangers for Gomez, his $7.3 million contract, and a young man by the name of Tom Pyatt. Gainey was hung out to dry by many for making that trade and taking on Gomez and his fat salary.
Let me suggest to you that this deal isn’t looking too bad right about now. And it’s not because Gomez has been a reasonably effective contributor. To judge Gomez based on the size of his salary is simply unfair. It’s not his fault the New York Rangers first decided to pay him that kind of money. Gomez has given the Canadiens everything expected of him: no more, no less. Yes, he can drive you crazy by taking dumb penalties, as he did to start this series against the Flyers. But he can also dazzle you with his speed and craftiness, as he did last night.
It’s Tom Pyatt who is the more intriguing story. Basically a throw-in, Pyatt is becoming the player that Chris Higgins failed to become in Montreal: a tenacious, high-energy third-line player. Granted, Pyatt has yet to prove that he has the offensive upside that Higgins still has (although you’d be hard-pressed to sell that concept to the Rangers, who subsequently traded him to the Calgary Flames, where he finished the season with a grand total of 8 goals and 9 assists.)
You’ll recall that Pyatt had a terrific training camp with the Canadiens before he got his bell rung at the Bell Centre in one of the final games of the pre-season. He was sent to Hamilton to mend and started the season as a member of the Bulldogs. He was up and down a few times and ended up seeing action in 40 regular season games: picking up two goals and three assists in the process.
Nothing to write home about. But at a time when the Canadiens were auditioning a number of Bulldogs, Pyatt certainly seemed to have the most upside. And now, 17 games into the playoffs, Tom Pyatt has arrived. He put his stamp on things last night as part of a Pyatt-Dominic Moore-Maxime Lapierre unit that gave the Flyers fits during Montreal’s 5-1, game-three victory: a line that provided high-energy, in-your-face hockey. Pyatt scored a dirty goal when a puck bounced off his body past Mike Leighton late in the first period to give the Habs a 2-0 lead: his second goal of the post-season. For the record, this line finished a plus five on the night, while flinging nine shots at the Flyer goal and making Chris Pronger’s life miserable.
While we’re at it, let’s acknowledge the fine work of another relative newcomer on this team, Dominic Moore, picked up at the trade deadline at a time when the Canadiens were fighting the injury bug and simply looking for a warm NHL body to put on the ice. Moore has been a terrific acquisition and last night he had a terrific game, contributing with his fourth goal of the post-season. As honest as the day is long, Moore just goes out there and works his tail off. And last night he worked his tail off.
Yes, the Canadiens got goals from the usual suspects last night in Cammalleri and Gionta, along with a power-play blast by Marc-Andre Bergeron in the final minute of play. But this was a night that belonged to the third liners. We always knew Lapierre had it in him. And thanks to some shrewd wheeling and dealing by Bob Gainey, he has two linemates who have been difference makers during this incredible and unforgettable playoff run.