Back from my excursion to Montreal and my record of never seeing a team in the Montreal system, lose live is still standing. 5-1 over the Edmonton Oilers and a 2-1 shoot out win over Carolina. So what happened? What changed this weekend?
The all-star game wasn't the rejuvenating boost for the Canadiens that I'd hoped it would be. Back to back 4-2 losses to Philadelphia and Buffalo were disheartening and I wasn't optimistic going into the weekend. It seems nothing had changed over the all-star break; not the coach, not the players, not the GM, not the style of play, not the team mentality... nothing.
The Oilers, on the other hand, had seen the return of their best player in Connor McDavid and had responded in kind with a 5-1 win over Columbus and a 7-2 win over Ottawa. They were hot and the Habs were not. I was asked before the game for my prediction and my reply was, "My head says 2-1 Edmonton but my heart says 5-1 Montreal." My friends all laughed it off as we headed for the Bell Centre. The Bell Centre; the new Cathedral for professional hockey, was truly majestic. On the way there I was swept away in a sea of red shirts in through the entrance and amidst the hallowed halls of the mecca of hockey in Canada.
I watched stars, past and present, tell us what it meant to them to dawn the CH an heard the fans erupt when the Canadiens stepped onto the ice for their first of a two game set on Superbowl weekend. I sat in blissful admiration as the goals poured in. A nice fake by Subban then a quality pass to Plekanec so he could one time it off Gallager's shinpad and into the net for the first goal on the powerplay put Montreal up 1-0 seven and a half minutes into the game. I knew it was important for Montreal to get the first one and also for the power play to get going. I also knew that we'd been finding ways to lose lately and that we'd need more. The Bell Centre faithful knew it too.
We didn't have to wait long. Eller gobbled up a rebound an had enough poise not to panic and dished it to Fleischmann who was breaking out up the wing. Eller then skated hard to get himself into a good shooting position. When the puck was dropped back to him he was calm as he used the time he had and potted it glove side just inside the post and over the left pad. Having a 2-0 lead going into the first intermission seemed to life the spirits of the crowd.
If we thought the first period was a nice uplift from the hockey we'd be getting over the past two months, boy were we in for a treat in the second. A good forecheck by Gallagher and Galchenyuk forced an Edmonton turnover. A pass across the goal mouth by Plekanec was redirected in by an Edmonton defenseman but with Gallagher and Galchenyuk crashing the net, had the pass gotten through, there would have been trouble. 3-0 and the crowd begin to relax. With a "Go Habs! Go!" chant on the tips of our tongues Gallagher started a breakout about 6 minutes later. Plekanec took he puck to the left wing and found Subban racing in to join the play. Pleks returned the favour from the first period and laid the puck over, catching Subban in stride. A slapper that the goalie got a piece off, but had enough mustard on it to still tuck in just inside the post. With the Habs up 4-0 the atmosphere was waking up.
We got an early wakeup call as Edmonton scored early in the third, short handed. It was obvious, with a 4-1 lead that Montreal had begun to play more defensive, just happy with the win but they had just enough in them to make my prediction come through. Buzzing around the left wing again, he waited until Gilbert identified the space in the slot. A tape to tape pass from Plekanec and Gilbert did a good job to redirect the puck in to make it 5-1 and send this Habs fan away with a grin that would shamethe Cheshire Cat to shame.
The 5 goals was a real treat to watch but Edmonton's defense is like a wheel of Swiss Cheese only it doesn't go as well with crackers, apples, dry cured meat, and a nice wine. The impressive part to Montreal's game tonight was how they limited Edmonton's scoring chances. Edmonton might not be a good team but the kids can score. 12 goals in the previous 2 games and we all should have been genuinely concerned that this could have gotten ugly. Our entire team played sound defence, back checked hard, and played smart hockey in their own end. Couple that with some timely saves and Montreal played a very good 1goal performance.
Game 2 saw Montreal play their second matinee game in as many nights against a Carolina that traveled from Winnipeg the night before. Still giddy from the game prior, for the first time in a long time I actually expected Montreal to win. Unfortunately my seat wasn't even warm before Carolina made it 1-0. I'm we were all worried that Saturday afternoon was a flash in the pan and we were back to our losing was. More importantly my record of never seeing a team in the Montreal system lose, live was in jeopardy. Thankfully, Captain Max would come to the rescue. Subban did well to keep the puck in and get it to Markov who, I turn, found a wide open Pacioretty. That was a goalscorers goal to tie it up; a hard wrister over the right shoulder of Cam Ward. Ben Scrivens was the benefactor of another solid defensive effort and, thankfully, Andrighetto potted one in the shoot out for the win.
Aside from the treat of a rare two game winning street I gained some insight into my beloved Canadiens and the city that houses them, but perhaps another time. Tonight will be a true test of the broken curse and a Tampa Bay lightening fresh off a 5-1 loss to Ottawa and heading into Montreal for their second game in as may nights is ripe for the picking. Fingers crossed that this accursed losing slump is finally over.