The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Tampa Bay 1-2 (SO) Montreal: Habs edge an even contest

New York has its advantages, but one of the downsides is that I have been forced on occasion to willingly subject myself to New Jersey Devils hockey. Chilling, I know. Some clubs unfairly get a reputation that they can never shake, but the Devils deserve every disparaging word. They represent the game in its most unflattering light, and if trap-filled borefests were closer to the mean, hockey’s popularity would rank below water polo (Note: water polo is rad, but few agree with me). Thankfully, sometimes two clubs collectively decide to trade kamikaze sorties up and down the ice for 60 minutes, and the result is a pleasantly jarring reminder as to why many of us love this sport in the first place.

Tonight, the Habs and Bolts decided on the latter. Not only was the pace energetic throughout, but it was an even affair with a high level of skill on display. In particular, both goaltenders shone.

The Habs started brightly for the second straight night, but had nothing to show for it. Mike Smith immediately signaled his intentions, bailing out his team when they took a bad penalty early on.  Despite a silly o-zone penalty on Tanguay at the end of the PP, the early going was dominated by the Canadiens. I hope I’m not jinxing them, but they look completely rejuvenated after their recent spell in the doldrums.

The momentum changed though when Tom Kostopolous was massacred in a scrap against Evgeny Artyukhin. If it were a UFC bout, the referee would have stopped it after the second brutal punch.

That let Tampa ease into the game, and a few minutes later they were on the board thanks to yet another needless penalty from Roman Hamrlik. Vaclav Prospal was allowed to dance through all four penalty killers directly into the slot, and he tipped home Ryan Malone’s pass. Komisarek was most at fault, as he got caught cheating towards the corner and couldn’t recover in time to get a body on Prospal.

To their credit, the Habs didn’t panic. They kept their patience and drew two more penalties, but it seems like their recent improvement on the PP has been a false dawn. The third man-advantage was truly abject, though Smith’s zone clearances were impressive (Price had to cover one for a faceoff back in our end).

The second period wasn’t as adrenalized, and less rubber got through to the netminders. Montreal still edged it, but the Lightning blueliners fearlessly blocked many shots in Smith’s defense. Andrej Meszaros in particular was a nuisance.

Still, Kovalev managed to ring the iron with a wicked wrister. Soon after, he began the key sequence of the stanza. He stickhandled the length of the offensive zone and around the net. Smith repelled his sharp-angle shot, and the Lightning countered with speed. Meszaros collected a wonderful bank-pass off the sideboards and streaked into our zone on a 2-on-1 with Martin St. Louis. Markov was the lone defender, and conceded the shot by overplaying St. Louis. As a defenseman, Meszaros surely didn’t recognize that two strides would take him into the clear. Instead, he deferred  to St. Louis, and Markov was easily able to brush the pass away.

Tampa sensed an opening, but Pleks made a fantastic stick-check from behind to deny Vincent Lecavalier a wide-open one-timer…then, Carey Price stood firm when St. Louis had some daylight to shoot. Back the other way, Smith robbed AK46, and Lang whiffed on the wide-open rebound. D’Agostini then hit the post on our 4th PP, which soon turned to 0-5 as an entertaining period concluded.

Carbo better do something about the PP before I lose it. Really.

Anyway, the Energy Line has carried us of late, and they rode to the rescue again before the third period was a minute old. Meszaros blocked Kosto’s shot from the point, but it unluckily it bounced right to Lapierre in the slot. Smith made a quality save to deny him, but the rebound came out to Lats on the side of the net. Guillaume just did get the second attempt through Smith and in for the equalizer.

After our goal, the third period mainly consisted of an exchange of failed power plays and more glorious chances. Ryan Malone should have scored off a rebound on one of their PPs, but he skied his shot over the bar. Lang cruised in on a breakaway later on, but Smith made a Dominik Hasek-style WONDER SAVE, flinging his body like a soccer goalkeeper. Artyukhin also had a breakaway, and his shot did beat Price. But, it went through the legs and wide. To cap it off, AK46 hit the post in the dying embers of the period. Annnnnnnd, catch your breath…

Honestly, 1-1 after regulation was a fair result. Even in open and entertaining games like this, many teams would play out time in OT and take their chances in the shootout. To their eternal credit, the Habs and Lightning went balls-to-the-wall looking for the win. Lang danced into the slot and had room, but his weak shot was easily hoovered up. Artyukhin then clowned two Habs defenders and rounded Price, but then had nothing to shoot at. Finally, Smith capped off his evening with his best save yet. A shot went just wide, but he had to dive post-to-post. He was dead to rights, lying on his stomach as Lapierre shot from the other side of the net. He brought his glove up, and hey, look what he found! ARGH, that was frustation personified.

Even worse, Jussi Jokinen made Price look bad on the first shootout attempt. His deke was nice, but Price gave him far too much room on the glove side. Thankfully, sandwiched around Prospal’s dismal effort were two outstanding finishes by the Habs’ shooters. Kovalev’s backhander went off Smith’s trapper and in, and Lapierre – I (heart) Max – rocketed an unstoppable effort right underneath the crossbar. Lecavalier’s attempt was far better than Prospal’s, but Price held his nerve and waited for Lecavalier to blink first. He did, and two much-needed points went to the Canadiens.

While I’m happy we won, this game is a glaring example of why ties weren’t that bad. Just as legitimate 10-10 rounds exist in boxing and MMA (and the reticence from connoisseurs of both to award them is infinitely maddening), legitimate ties exist in hockey. We’re not giving back that second point, though!

TSBS Three Stars of the Game:

1. Mike Smith
2. Carey Price
3. Andrej Meszaros

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December 30, 2008 - Posted by | Montreal Canadiens

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