The Montreal Canadiens finally rediscovered the win column against the Tamp Bay Lightning after suffering their three ugliest losses of the season. With a little luck and a huge game from the man who was handed the blame for the losing streak, Habs fans can sigh a bit of relief before facing the Washington Capitals tonight.
The Lightning had countless chances to open the scoring in the first period against Montreal but hit the post an astounding four times and were turned aside over and over again by Carey Price. Price held the fort long enough for Alex Galchenyuk to open the scoring early in the second to continue his torrid scoring pace over the last ten games.
Captain Brian Gionta would put the Habs ahead 2-0 on a nifty passing play by new linemates Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec. Lightning rookie Richard Panik put his soft hands to work in tight on a powerplay late in the second to cut the Canadiens lead in half entering the third. Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier would tie it up early in the third period but some undisciplined play would lead to Tampa’s demise.
Montreal would finally make good on their fourth man advantage of the period with just 47 seconds to play in regulation. A point shot by Yannick Weber would miss short side but bounce right onto Gionta’s stick at the side of the net where he tucked home the game winner.
Carey Price would end the night with 32 stops on 34 Lightning shots and the game’s second star. It was a much needed bounce back performance by Price, who bore the brunt of the blame for the Habs recent struggles.
The three game losing streak began against the rival Toronto Maple Leafs. In a possible first round playoff preview, Price allowed 3 goals on 4 shots in little more than half a period resulting in a 5-1 defeat.
He was right back between the pipes two nights later against the visiting Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers, a team struggling to meet their lofty expectations all season would victimize Price for six goals on 29 shots before Peter Budaj would take over for the third period.
Price looked better, if not great against Philly, making several key saves to keep the game close but horrendous defensive play by everyone in a Habs sweater would lead to countless glorious opportunities for Philadelphia to capitalize on.
Carey was scheduled to have a night off against the high flying Pittsburgh Penguins but Peter Budaj was unable to make it past the first intermission. Allowing 3 goals on 9 shots it was back to Price in net with forty minutes to go. Though the game was over before Price entered, he was able to stop 17 of 20 shots fired his way and find a little momentum heading into Thursday’s contest with the Lightning.
It was a tough three game stretch for Price but aside from an awful ten minutes against Toronto, the blame should have been shared amongst his teammates rather than squarely on Price himself. If it were not for his play against the Flyers, Philly would have scored a dozen in the first forty minutes.
The Habs are going to have to play a much better defensive game if they wish to come away with a win tonight. In their final home game of the season they host the Southeast Division leading Washington Capitals, winners of eight of their past nine games. The Capitals were struggling through much of the season but found their stride when the calendar flipped to April. They won the first eight games of the month before finally falling to the Ottawa Senators in their most recent contest.
The two teams met not two weeks ago with the Capitals emerging victorious in a tightly contested 3-2 victory. Lars Eller sniped both goals for the Habs, with unlikely hero Jack Hillen netting the game winner for Washington. The first meeting between the teams was shortly after the season got underway on January 24th. Montreal would dominate en route to a 4-1 victory while the Capitals spun their tires early in the season.
Perhaps the Capitals are the perfect team for Price to right the ship against. In the two meetings this season Price has stopped 54 of 58 shots against the Caps, having great success against the high scoring team led by Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom and former Hab Mike Ribeiro. Overall, against the Southeast Division this season, Montreal holds an amazing 12-1-0 record.
With only four games remaining in the regular season and the playoffs already a certainty, Montreal will look to grab some momentum in the rubber match against Washington. There is much left to play for as they try to guarantee home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs and possibly the Northeast Division title.