What the Canadiens did Saturday night was actually almost beyond description. It was incredible, mind numbing, exhilarating, debilitating (for Ottawa) and historic.
Or it was a magic act.
That come from behind victory over the NY Rangers at the Bell Centre in February 2008 - after the Habs had fallen behind 5-0 - was and always will be special but what happened against Ottawa was even more impressive. The Senators led by three goals with 3:23 to play. By the time it was over the Canadiens had scored four goals in the final 4:48 to send the Bell Centre into a frenzy. And just about kill any hope the Senators had of climbing back into the playoff picture.
If it wasn't magic how else do you explain the various scenarios that unfolded: Carey Price, in his first NHL start since February 8th, is given an early 1-0 lead only to watch Jason Spezza move into the slot unmolested and beat him on the first shot he faced since Sochi? Or when he stopped Zack Smith on a breakaway only to lose control of the puck after awkwardly getting caught guessing on what Smith was going to do as the Senators grabbed a lead they would eventually add to even though they had been badly outplayed? Lars Eller - who hadn't scored a goal in 2014 - is reunited with Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk only to be victimized repeatedly as he and Gallagher are a combined -8 before Eller begins the comeback by knocking in new linemate Brian Gionta's rebound that even Rene Bourque would have buried. Two and a half minutes earlier Milan Michalek loses his mind and starts throwing punches at Brandon Prust and stops only when Prust pummels him to the ice. Both players get roughing minors and fighting majors that presumably ends their night. With Ottawa up by a goal and a face off deep in Montreal territory Kyle Turris loses the draw and stupidly uses his stick in an attempt to halt the momentum of puck carrier Andrei Markov. The Habs get an opportunity to tie the game with their impotent power play which had been 0-6. The normally conservative Michel Therrien gets ultra aggressive by pulling Price for a 6th attacker with 1:48 to play. With 2 seconds left the puck finds P.K. Subban - the most electrifying player on the ice - who has the sense to fake a shot and then dish to David Desharnais who beats a badly out of position Robin Lehner with .03 seconds to play. The rest seemed inevitable. As overtime began Michalek re-emerged from the Ottawa dressing room to take his seat in the penalty box. But Prust was already in travel-to-Buffalo mode. He had to put all of his equipment back on and barely made it to the corridor next to the Montreal bench when Francis Bouillon - Bouillon! - capped the comeback by firing the puck into an open Ottawa net as the Senators waited for an Eric Furlatt whistle that never came. And the Habs became the first team in NHL history to win a game after trailing by three goals with less than five minutes to play in the third period.
The Senators can squawk all they want about the officiating but the fact is they became unglued. It's as if they took a cue from their goaltender who couldn't seem to control a single shot all night. He made saves early but there were rebounds galore and loose pucks around his crease waiting for a stick that could finish. And their captain Jason Spezza acted like a child who had been told he can't have his friends come by for a sleepover.
The Canadiens, by securing two points, avoided panic mode while putting themselves in a position to reclaim second place in the Atlantic Division with a victory in Buffalo, which was a fait accompli, even after Dustin Tokarski was named the starting goaltender. The fact that Tokarski recorded his first NHL shutout in his second Montreal start just added more to the weekend lore.
Montreal fans think a lot of things about Michel Therrien. I don't think 'magician' is one of them. But he gets some credit here. After reuniting Eller-Gallagher-Galchenyuk he recognized the night for the trio quickly went from good to bad to worse. So he flip flopped Gallagher and Gionta. He was eventually rewarded for his patience with Eller. He played the heck out of Subban (28:55). He pulled Price with nearly two minutes to play, knowing his ineffective power play was going to need an extra skater. And he put Bouillon on the ice in overtime (with Mike Weaver who had jumped on after a rink length rush by Subban).
It was - in the end - a perfect four point weekend. The Habs woke up on St. Patrick's Day to prepare for Saint Patrick. And Michel Therrien wonders if he should keep that spare rabbit around in case he needs it during the final week of the regular season. At this point who knows what might happen down the homestretch? The only thing Therrien knows for certain is the number of games his team has left to play.
Mitch Melnick is the host of Melnick in the Afternoon on TSN 690 - Montreal's Sports Authority. Mitch also has his own website at MitchMelnick.com where you can find his blog, music links, upcoming events, neat photos and more. Listen Live to Melnick - weekdays from 3:00 - 7:00 pm. If you have questions or wish to contact Mitch, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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