Montreal - April 23, 2014 - Max Pacioretty. Right on time. On the power play.
It should be noted that the late penalty on Cedric Paquette that Tampa Bay is bitching about ("200 feet from our net....they put the whistles away in the third period") was called by non-Quebecer Chris Lee who hails from Georgian Bay, Ontario.
Hope you enjoyed the Canadiens as "hosts" on Hockey Night In Canada. Because it sure looks like our national hockey telecast is about to become another Bruins love-in.
• Max Pacioretty. First career playoff goal is a most memorable one. First time the Canadiens have clinched a playoff series with a goal in the final minute since Mats Naslund scored against Boston in 1985. Pacioretty was over due but it's not like he wasn't playing well. Seemed well ahead of his line mates over the last two games. Looking forward to the rest between series - "Going to Sochi and not having much time off, I feel this is going to be a good chance for me to get in the weight room and find some strength for round two".
• P.K. Subban. Electrifying with the puck. If you saw him poised at the Tampa Bay blue line to begin the late power play you saw a player who wanted to end it. And he helped do it. Victimized on Tampa's tying goal when he inadvertently tipped the puck to Tyler Johnson but overall was strong at both ends of the ice.
• Brendan Gallagher. He stated before the series started that he had a lot to learn from his first exposure to NHL playoff hockey a year ago. He's a fast learner. His goal early in the second drove Anders Lindback from the Tampa net and perhaps right out of the NHL. Only one other player scored as many goals in the series as Gallagher.
• Rene Bourque. What a transformation. Who was the last 32 year old 10 year NHL vet who went from a 9 goal regular season and several stints in the doghouse to dominance in the first round of the playoffs? He fired 10 more shots at the Tampa net while leading all forwards with 4 hits. That's the definition of a power forward.
• Tomas Plekanec. Perfect set up to Gallagher to make it 3-1. Did a great job covering Steven Stamkos (while scoring just as many goals) once it became apparent after Game One that the Habs needed to do a better job on Tampa's captain. And fittingly, it was Plekanec - not David Desharnais - who was on the ice to help set up the game winning goal.
• Lars Eller. When Plekanec wasn't on Stamkos it was Eller who centred the best Montreal line in the series. His goal - a cannon from the left face off circle that went right through Lindback - might have been the best shot Eller has ever taken.
• Brian Gionta. Playing terrific hockey. Somebody else who can use some rest prior to Round Two.
• Mike Weaver & Francis Bouillon. Plus 5 in the clincher. Combined +10 in the series.
• Daniel Briere. Opened the scoring about three minutes after shaking Ginette Reno's hand. Total ice time - 9:34. Great take on Briere from HNIC's Elliotte Friedman with us on TSN690 - "I think (Michel) Therrien has proven that he's been working towards something this year and he's gotten the team going really well right now. You have to save your bullets with Briere. And now, with the games becoming so much more intense, you really have to fire the bullets at the right time. You're just going to have to live with the fact there are going to be nights (Game 3) when he's not going to be able to have it but you always want him there because he's a guy who can score a goal for you at any time".
• Michel Therrien. A little love for the coach - even from the #firetherrien crowd? What else do you want? Put together four lines - they all scored in this one - that were relentless on the forecheck. Made the right call to suit up Bouillon instead of Douglas Murray. Called an appropriate time out after the Lightning tied the game six and a half minutes into the third period. Loved the question Eric Engels asked Therrien post game, in relation to the much discussed "Face it - you're a grinding team" comments courtesy of 24CH. Many of us mocked him for it. In reality the blue collar guy was just pleading for his players - especially his better ones - to work harder. Has earned that contract extension.
• Alexei Emelin. Seemed out of sorts all night. Went for an early big hit on Ryan Callahan and missed. Might have been shaken up by the unpenalized punch to the face he took from Stamkos after he drew a hooking call. Made a mess in front of Carey Price on that power play that Ondrej Palat managed to clean up when he pushed the puck into the net to give Tampa some life - for about 70 seconds.
• Criticism of late Chris Lee tripping call on Cedric Paquette. Yes, I'm going to defend Lee. It was a classic trip and he had no choice but to call it. I'd be surprised if any NHL ref - including Tim Peel - wouldn't have called it even with just 2:11 to play. This whole notion of "letting the players decide it" is laughable. You don't want to get in the way as an official but you gotta make an obvious call regardless of how much time is left on the clock. Paquette and Michael Bournival were wrestling in the corner of the rink. Bournival jumped onto the loose puck. Paquette clearly tripped him resulting in a turnover deep inside Montreal territory. What if that turnover led to a game winning goal by the Lightning? If Bournival is tripped and looses the puck but it's picked up by a teammate there's likely no call. Bad karma seemed to follow Paquette around all series after he let it be known he was going to make the Habs "pay" for not drafting him in 2012.
• Ron MacLean. Drowned himself on national TV even as Friedman and P.J. Stock tried to throw him a life jacket. Might as well have been Ladislav Nagy anchoring HNIC ("Fucking French (refs)" - yelled the Coyotes forward to linesman Michel Cormier during a Phoenix loss at the Bell Centre in 2005. As the officials left the ice at the end of the game Cormier thought he heard Shane Doan yell "Four fucking French refs in Montreal, Cuje. You figure it out" as he tried to clam down goalie Curtis Joseph. Federal Sports Minister Denis Coderre - in the middle of an election campaign - wanted Doan out as captain of Team Canada at the 2006 Olympics. Cormier and Coderre would have been the first people in the country to have heard Shane Doan swear. Lawsuits followed. You remember that mess?) Somewhere along the way MacLean took it upon himself to become an expert on every aspect of officiating in the NHL. As if he had years of experience as a pro (He's a former Level 5 referee in the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association). Often egged on by Don Cherry, MacLean has spent a chunk of valuable time through the years explaining NHL rules and officiating as if he was the second coming of Red Storey. His suggestion during a panel discussion that referee Francois St. Laurent should not have been assigned to Game 4 between Tampa Bay and Montreal - in light of Francis Charron's no goal call in Game 3 - is so disrespectful and so out of bounds in 2014 (I can still picture Harry Sinden throwing ashtrays around the Forum press box while yelling at ref Denis Morel - back in the 1970s) that I'd like to believe it was MacLean's awkward way of taking a shot at NHL Director of Officiating Stephen Walkom for doing a job that Maclean thinks he should have. In saying what he did Maclean attacked both St. Laurent - a native of Greenfield Park - and Walkom in the worst possible way. He brought into question their integrity. After buying into the biggest conspiracy theory in hockey - that NHL refs - especially from Quebec - favour the Canadiens. It was an ignorant, no class comment that further reveals the depth to which a once great Canadian institution has sunk.
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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