What a whirlwind twenty-four hours for the Montreal Canadiens. From the terrible hit on Lars Eller, one of the keys to the success of the Canadiens this season, to the iffy-at-best goaltending from Carey Price, the Canadiens couldn’t take advantage of their 50 shots against Craig Anderson. What stole the spotlight, beyond the Eller saga and subsequent suspension, was the chirping between both sides. Between an admittedly callous-sounding Paul MacLean to Prust’s “bug-eyed fat walrus” comments, it seemed that the Canadiens would be a frustrated group, perhaps too frustrated. With news filtering out that Max Pacioretty and Brian Gionta would also miss the game, most Canadiens fans seemed to be inching closer to the ledge. There wasn’t much to be optimistic about going into the game, but if there was ever a time for a gut-checking win, this was it.
The game would have an excellent pace, and the Canadiens would jump out to a healthy lead in shots. The officiating, again, was lamentable at best – Prust in particular seems to never get the benefit of the doubt. Anderson was without a doubt selling a call on the goaltender interference penalty, but in any case, the Senators couldn’t get their powerplay going. The first period would end scoreless, with the Canadiens doubling up the Senators in shots at 14-8. The second period would contain all of the game’s 4 goals, with Ryan White scoring off a terrible turnover from Erik Karlsson. Yes, the same Ryan White who many (myself included) thought had played his last game of his career with the Canadiens after getting that 5-game suspension at the end of the season. Less than a minute later, Brendan Gallagher would score his 2nd of the series after being left wide open in front of the net. Milan Michalek would narrow the gap to 1 goal on a delayed penalty, but that’s as close as the Senators would come. The excellent play of Carey Price in goal, particularly short-handed, would be an important turning point. Price turned back at least 3 grade-A chances to keep the lead. In return, Michael Ryder would finally wake up and pot his 1st of the series at the end of the second. The third would be scoreless, but the Canadiens kept the pressure on and limited their turnovers to get the win.
Make no mistake about it, this was a big one for a Canadiens team that’s missing the equivalent of an entire high-quality second line. Not to overstate the importance of evening the series, but going to Ottawa down 2-0 would have been a dangerous situation. Evening up the series, and playing an inspired, solid game from start to finish, was of critical importance. Playing a tight checking and physical playoff game against a solid opponent was important for morale.
- The play of Carey Price was the story of the game. After coming off a less-than-stellar effort in Game 1, Price looked square to the shooter and solid for the entire evening. That series of saves that he made late in the second preserved the game for the Canadiens and gave them the push needed to extend the lead.
- The resurgence of Ryan White was another positive. As I mentioned earlier, I was of the mind that White‘s undisciplined play this season cost him a roster spot on the Canadiens but he proved his worth tonight. He was hitting everything in sight and creating opportunities on the forecheck.
- Erik Karlsson looked off tonight. The game plan very obviously shifted towards shadowing Karlsson and hitting him at every opportunity. He looked jittery every time he had the puck, perhaps hearing footsteps? He is undoubtedly one of the elite D-men in the game, so this will have to continue if the Canadiens have a chance to take this series.
Now the focus moves to Sunday evening’s tilt against the Senators at Scotiabank Place. The keys to the series don’t change, but hopefully the Canadiens get some reinforcements back to bolster their offensive ranks.