Monday, March 31, 2008

Habs Visit Ottawa; Can Clinch N-E Crown

The Habs will first and foremost be looking for the win in Ottawa Tuesday night, but all they truly need is to stretch the game into overtime to clinch the Northeast Division crown for the first time in 16 years and guarantee home-ice for the opening 2 rounds of the playoffs, as they will not be able to slide lower than 3rd thanks to Carolina's potential to only reach 96 points this season.

The Habs will be in tough tomorrow night as they visit a Senators team that not only thrives when facing the Habs, but a Senators team that is also looking to silence some of their critics regarding their recent play, having lost their previous 2 matches including a 4-0 shutout in Boston most recently.

Ottawa lost it's last matchup vs. Montreal at the Bell Centre, although they showed resillience in being able to comeback from a 7-1 deficit to eventually lose 7-5. The Canadiens had 6 different scorers in that game, with only Andrei Kostitsyn tallying twice.

The Habs will need more offense from every line as they will ice an A- squad tomorrow with Koivu, Komisarek and Bouillon OUT and Latendresse and Streit game-time decisions.

Ottawa entered Monday in fifth place in the East, but ninth-place Washington is just four points back, meaning the Senators could still earn home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs or miss them entirely.

Injury Update - Koivu OUT Until Playoffs

The news is out on Saku Koivu - well, sort of.

Koivu was examined and it has been determined that he has a break in a small bone in the left foot, and the injury will force Saku to miss the final 3 games on the regular season schedule. Carbonneau said that if Koivu can get a skate on his foot without pain come game 1 of the playoffs, he will leave the decision up to the captain whether to play or not.

Further tests will be taken on Koivu tomorrow and more details will be released at that time, so the waiting game continues.

Mikhail Grabovski will lineup in Koivu's spot on the second line.

Mark Streit and Guillaume Latendresse resumed practising today and both are probable for action tomorrow night in Ottawa.

Francis Bouillon is listed as day-to-day, but it doubtful to go tomorrow.

Mike Komisarek resumed skating for the first time since his injury on March 20th, and is very optimistic of a return for the beginning of the fact, he guaranteed it.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Once Vacant - Now Busy Habs' Infirmary

Since losing Mike Komisarek to injury back on March 20th in a game vs. the Boston Bruins, the Habs had had no real significant injuries to contend with throughout the regular season.

But all that has changed in a hurry.

Joining Komisarek on the sidelines will be defenseman Francis Bouillon, defenseman/forward Mark Streit, and arguably most important of all, captain Saku Koivu, all of whom are suffering from various foot injuries.

Bouillon was the most recently injured skater, taking a shot off the inside of the right foot in last night's loss at Toronto. He had taken a shot in the precise same location back on Monday night in the Canadiens' win vs. Ottawa.

Streit and Koivu were injured in Montreal's come-from-behind win in Buffalo Friday night, yet they managed to play the entire game - and played key roles in the win, too. Streit had 3 assists, and both Streit and Koivu helped set up Higgins' O.T. winner.

Sources claim that reports from RDS stated that Koivu wore a foot brace and used crutches to board the Habs' charter-flight home last night.

Guillaume Latendresse also continues to recover from neck spasms.

Thankfully, the Habs have a significant amount of depth already at the NHL level, and have some talented youth in the farm system...however, no one can truly fill the holes that each of these key and core players leave behind in absence, leading all fans to believe that some truly tough times are ahead with the regular season having but 3 games of life in it for the Habs, who continue to chase a Divisional and Conference crown.

The Habs will limp into Ottawa Tuesday night for a criitcal game in determining the Northeast Division champions.

More to come as it becomes available...

Habs Downed By Maple Leafs

The Montreal Canadiens went into their game against the Toronto Maple Leafs hoping to build on their Eastern Conference lead.

Not so fast.

Rookies Anton Stralman and Jiri Tlusty each scored two goals and the Maple Leafs beat the Canadiens 4-2 on Saturday night.

"We were looking for an easy game, but it wasn't easy," Christopher Higgins said.

It sure wasn't.

Nik Antropov added three assists for the Maple Leafs, who are playing for pride after being eliminated from playoff contention Thursday night.

Tom Kostopoulos and Mathieu Dandenault scored for the Canadiens, who failed to put more distance between them and the second-place Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference title race. Montreal was sloppy Friday night in Buffalo, but escaped with a late-game comeback.

"I knew we would have a bit of a letdown after clinching a playoff spot, but I didn't think it would last this long," coach Guy Carbonneau said. "We have three games left. We have to regroup and end the regular season on a good note."

Stralman got the game's first goal after a scoreless first period when his wrist shot from the point at 7:25 of the middle period beat a screened Jaroslav Halak top corner on the stick side.

Dandenault tied it 58 seconds later when Maxim Lapierre's shot banked off him and in behind Vesa Toskala, who made his 30th consecutive start.

Stralman put Toronto back ahead 2-1 with a wrist shot from the top of the faceoff circle at 9:33 that beat a yet-again screened Halak.

Tlusty, who also had an assist, added a pair of goals at 3:17 and 15:16 in third period to seal the victory. Kostopoulos scored with 16 seconds remaining.

The playoff-bound Canadiens were without captain Saku Koivu and offensive defenseman Mark Streit, out with foot injuries. The extent of the injuries won't be known until doctors take a closer look Monday in Montreal.

"Saku is a special player and he's our leader, we'll miss him for sure," Higgins said after Saturday's game. "Hopefully he's not out for long. But one of our advantages on this team is that we have depth. Guys step in and contribute."

Koivu and Streit were both injured during Friday's 4-3 overtime win in Buffalo, but played the entire game - Koivu and Streit both assisting on the overtime winner by Higgins.

Notes: Toronto has three games remaining: Tuesday at home against Buffalo, Thursday at home against Ottawa and next Saturday at Montreal.

Associated Press (sorry for the AP reports lately guys, I'm a little sick and am lacking the energy to write up my own reports these days...I'll be back next week with my own stuff...

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Habs Visit ACC For Date With Leafs

A dramatic come-from-behind overtime victory got the Montreal Canadiens back atop the Eastern Conference. They hope to stay there while clinching their first division title in 15 seasons on Saturday against the last-place Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Canadiens (44-24-10) lead the Northwest Division by six points over Ottawa with four games remaining. A win on Saturday coupled with a Senators' loss at Boston would secure Montreal's first division crown since winning the Adams Division in 1991-92. The club's last regular-season conference championship came in 1988-89 when the East was known as the Wales Conference.

The Canadiens got closer to both of those achievements on Friday with a 4-3 overtime win at Buffalo. Tomas Plekanec forced the extra period by scoring twice in the final 2:31 of regulation before Christopher Higgins found the net with 1:22 to play in OT.

"It's a huge two points for us," Plekanec said. "We didn't play well, but we showed some character in the end."

The victory not only matched Montreal's season-high four-game winning streak, but also moved it a point clear of Pittsburgh for first place in the conference.

The two teams have four games left, but the Penguins are off until opening a home-and-home set with the New York Rangers on Sunday.

The Canadiens, who last won five in a row from March 17-27 of last season, visit Ottawa on Tuesday before returning home to face Buffalo on Thursday and Toronto (35-33-10) two nights later in the regular-season finale.

Plekanec has been outstanding in the last seven road games, getting eight goals and three assists. He had one of each in the last meeting with the Maple Leafs, a 4-2 home win on Feb. 7.

His assist in that contest came on a goal by Alex Kovalev, the team leader with 33 goals and 79 points. The Russian has three goals and four assists in the last four games. He's been terrific in the last four games against Toronto, netting five goals and assisting on four more, helping the Canadiens to a 3-2-1 advantage in the overall season series.

The Maple Leafs are just looking to end the season on a positive note. They were eliminated from playoff contention for the third straight season Thursday, losing 4-2 at eighth-place Boston to drop a home-and-home set. Toronto fell 6-2 at home Tuesday.

"Obviously, it's real disappointing. We really battled over a month to keep this race going," Leafs center Nik Antropov said. "You can say there is always next year, but three years in a row - it's getting on your nerves and it's not a fun feeling."

The Maple Leafs had hoped to get a lift from the returns of Antropov (knee) and captain Mats Sundin (groin) on Thursday, but each managed only one assist.

Sundin has two goals and five assists in the last six games against Montreal, giving him 32 goals and 80 points in 84 career meetings - his second-highest production in both categories against any club.

Associated Press

Habs Steal One In Buffalo

The Canadiens celebrate on Sabres' ice as they cap the 3-goal comeback win in overtime.

With a flick of his wrist in overtime, Christopher Higgins capped the Montreal Canadiens' three-goal comeback and dealt the stunned Buffalo Sabres a near finishing blow to their playoff hopes.

Higgins, though, wasn't thinking about the big-picture implications following a 4-3 victory that put Montreal back atop the Eastern Conference standings, a point ahead of idle Pittsburgh.

What satisfied Higgins is how he made up for missing on a wide-open breakaway that could have put the Canadiens ahead early in the third period.

"I felt pretty bad about that," said Higgins, who had his initial shot stopped by Ryan Miller's blocker, and then stuffed the rebound attempt into the goalie's pads. "To have that opportunity and let everybody down, I was glad I was able to come through in overtime. ... I was pretty pumped."

In a game the Canadiens initially had no business being in and trailed 3-1 with under 3 minutes left, Higgins emerged as the star, scoring 3:38 into the extra frame. Parked at the left post, Higgins easily redirected Mark Streit's pass from the right circle.

Credit, Tomas Plekanec, too, for rallying the Canadiens back with two goals in a span of 2:16, including the tying goal with 15 seconds left.

"It's a huge two points for us," Plekanec said. "We didn't play well, but we showed some character in the end."

The Sabres, meanwhile, continue to show little resemblance of a team that won the Presidents' Trophy a year ago. Depleted of its leaders, after losing co-captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere to free agency in July, the Sabres are unraveling down the stretch.

In blowing a 3-1 third-period lead for the second consecutive home game, Buffalo inched closer to being eliminated in the East playoff race. With four games left, the Sabres are stuck in 10th place, four points back of eighth-place Boston and the postseason cutoff in the East.

"Giving up those leads, we've got to learn," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said, referring to Buffalo also blowing a 3-1 third-period lead in a loss to Ottawa on Tuesday. "There's not a lot of learning time left, but you have to learn from it. It's painful and you've got to move on."

The Sabres seemed in full control when defenseman Nathan Paetsch, with his first goal in 47 games, and Daniel Paille scored less than two minutes apart to put Buffalo up 3-1 with 12:45 left in regulation.

Back came the Canadiens, who had seemed lifeless and disinterested for most of the game, and had managed just 10 shots through 34 minutes.

Plekanec cut the lead to 3-2, deflecting in Streit's shot from inside the blue line with 2:31 remaining. The tying goal came with Montreal's net empty, and was set up by Streit, who finished with three assists.

Streit's shot from the blue line hit defender Henrik Tallinder in front, and the puck dropped in the slot, where Plekanec reached back and swept it through Ryan Miller's legs.

"We should've been able to hold them off, but they got some breaks," Paille said. "Points are tough to come by, especially with four games to play. It's something we don't need right now."

The loss spoiled what had been a relatively solid outing by Miller, who finished with 25 saves and set the Sabres' single-season record by making his 73rd appearance.

Montreal goalie Carey Price played a key role in stopping 35 shots, his best a kick save foiling Paul Gaustad's wraparound attempt early in the second period.

"This means a lot, it's a good learning experience for us," Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau said, noting his team came out too relaxed after clinching a playoff berth earlier this week. "We just kind of showed up. We didn't respond, but sometimes it's better to be lucky than good, and we took advantage of it in the last minutes."

Alex Kovalev also scored for Montreal. Drew Stafford added a goal for Buffalo.

Sabres forward Steve Bernier left the game with under 4 minutes left after crashing into the end boards while attempting to check Streit. Ruff described the injury as a bruised hip.

Notes: The Canadiens opened a three-game road swing, and close the season with two home games. ... Buffalo's record for most appearances by a goalie was shared by Don Edwards (1977-78), Dominik Hasek (1997-98) and Martin Biron (2001-02). ... Montreal won its 24th road game, fourth most in franchise history, and most since they won 27 on the road in 1977-78.

Associated Press

Friday, March 28, 2008

3-Game Trip Begins In Buffalo

The Canadiens get a chance to reclaim the top spot in the Eastern Conference on Friday night when they open a three-game road trip against the Buffalo Sabres.

Montreal (43-24-10), the top team in the Northeast by four points over Ottawa, is a point behind East-leading Pittsburgh, which beat the New York Islanders 3-1 on Wednesday.

However, the Canadiens have five games remaining, while the Atlantic Division-leading Penguins have four.

The Canadiens moved atop the conference with a 7-5 win over the Senators on Monday, as Andrei Kostitsyn scored two of the Habs' three first-period goals. That victory secured Montreal's second trip to the playoffs in three seasons.

"It gives us some time to get ready for the playoffs and obviously we have games still left and we want to finish first," Canadiens captain Saku Koivu said. "That's our goal now, but it's kind of a derivative from preparation when you know that you're going to be there than a lot of years before where we played to the last game and still didn't know if we were going to make it or not."
The Canadiens haven't won a division since taking the Adams Division title in 1991-92. Their last conference championship came when the East was known as the Wales Conference.

They hope to get closer to equaling those feats by matching their season-high, four-game winning streak.

Montreal's trip takes it to last-place Toronto on Saturday before visiting Ottawa Tuesday. The Canadiens, who lead the East with 50 road points, close the regular season at home against Buffalo (36-30-11) on April 3 and the Maple Leafs two nights later.

Alex Kovalev, who has two goals and three assists in the last three games, has been a big part of the Canadiens' success away from home. He has five goals and 11 assists in helping Montreal go 6-2-0 in its last eight road games.

Kovalev is also getting help from Tomas Plekanec, who has six goals and three assists in his last six games as the visitor.

That span includes Plekanec's first career hat trick and a four-assist performance from Kovalev in a 6-2 win at Buffalo on Feb. 29, as the Canadiens tied the season series at three wins apiece.

The Sabres are 10th in the East, five points behind idle Boston for the eighth and final playoff spot. Two of their final five games are against the Bruins, including the regular-season finale on April 5.

They kept pace with Boston on Thursday when Paul Gaustad scored with 1:26 left in regulation before Derek Roy netted the decisive shootout goal, giving Buffalo a 4-3 win over Ottawa shortly after Boston beat Toronto 4-2. The Sabres' victory salvaged a split of a home-and-home set after they fell 6-3 at home to the Senators on Tuesday.

"I thought we deserved to win it from start to finish," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "We didn't give up a lot, we did a pretty good job against their top line, and I think when you work that hard and put the work in - we got rewarded."

Thomas Vanek has been solid of late, getting four goals and an assist in the last three games. He has three goals and four assists in the six matchups against Montreal, with five of those points coming at home.

Associated Press

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

On The Playoff Bubble...

Are Ovechkin, Huet and their Capitals team destined for the playoffs? You tell us!

With an average of 7 games left to be played by every team in the NHL, we here at Habs Hockey-Talkey would like you to voice your predictions as to whom you believe will qualify as the 7th and 8th Conference seeds, and who will miss the cut at #9 and #10.

To help you in doing so, here's a list of the #5-#12 seeds as they stand right now:


5. Ottawa-91
6. NY Rangers-89
7. Philadelphia-88
8. Boston-86

9. Washington-84
10. Buffalo-81
11. Florida-81
12. Toronto-80


5. Dallas-89
6. Minnesota-89
7. Vancouver-86
8. Colorado-86

9. Nashville-84
10. Edmonton-83
11. Chicago-80
12. Phoenix -80

I believe that in the East, the Capitals will not be denied a playoff spot, but I can't really see them catching Philly, so I will guess that Philly will grab the #7 spot, Washington will settle at #8, Boston will fall to #9, and Florida will nail down #10.

Out West, I can't envision any of the teams on the bubble sneaking in for a playoff spot, but I do believe that Colorado and Vancouver will switch positions; therefore, Colorado at #7, Vancouver at #8, Edmonton will grab #9, and Nashville will round out at #10.

Leave a comment on your predicitions, and also, comment on who you would like the playoff-bound Montreal Canadiens to face in the opening round of the playoffs...would you like a date with not-so-big, bad Bruins? How about a date with an old flame as in Cristobal Huet, Alexander Ovechkin and co.? Let us know!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Habs Score 7 In Win; Clinch Playoff Berth

Martin Gerber (above) and Ray Emery fought the puck all night long, allowing a combined 7 goals to Montreal, including this one to Chris Higgins in the 1st period.

The Montreal Canadiens survived a 4-goal rally in the 3rd period by the Ottawa Senators to hold on for the 7-5 win vs. the Senators, clinching a playoff berth and extending their lead over Ottawa to 7 points in the process.

The floodgates opened up early for Montreal, and eventually opened up for Ottawa as well.

Andrei Kostitsyn scored twice in the first period (including once on the powerplay), and Chris Higgins added one in between those two to spring the Habs ahead by 3 vs. their kryptonic rivals.

Ottawa would start the 2nd period with a change in personnel, as Martin Gerber got the hook from coach Murray and Ray Emery strapped up for relief action.

The Sens would get one back midway through the 2nd courtesy Antoine Vermette on a Carey Price giveaway, but that goal seemed to furth spark the Habs' offensive machine, as Montreal would add 4 more before the second period's end to lead the game 7-1. The goals came from Bouillon, Markov (PPG), Grabovski and Kostopoulos (SHG).

Clearly, the match seemed out of hand for Ottawa, and the scoring appeared to be destined for double digits on the Habs' half of the scoreboard, no matter who was manning the pipes for the Sens.

But disaster would strike... well, nearly.

The Sens would get goals early and often in the 1st half of the 3rd period, scoring 3 times to reduce the differential in goals to 3. Dany Heatley got it started, Martin Lapointe followed up, and Heatley contributed again before the 10 minute mark hit.

It was nearly time to push the panic button, but Carey Price (despite the onslaught) did his job even with the defensive breakdown in effect, making key saves on Dany Heatley and Antoine Vermette in tight.

The Sens would add one more with slightly under 2 minutes remaining, as Jason Spezza redirected a Cory Stillman slapper on the powerplay to get the Sens in goalie-pulling territory, but the Senators ran out of time to complete the impressive comeback, losing 7-5.

The refereeing seemed to be a little lenient towards Ottawa and a little harsh towards the Canadiens, but all in all, Montreal were able to hold on for the regulation win, which can go a long way from now to the end of the regular season in determining who will win the Northeast Division (and possibly the Eastern Conference) championships.
The Pittsburgh Penguins dropped a 4-1 decision on Long Island to allow the Habs to earn a 3 point separation on them for 1st in the East.

The Habs are off until they visit Buffalo Friday at the HSBC Center.

Habs Try For Rare, Precious Win vs. Sens

Montreal looks to move one step closer to its first division title since 1991-92 when it hosts the Northeast Division's second-place Ottawa Senators on Monday.

The Sens have dominated the Habs this season, going 5-1 in the 6 of 8 games played thus far in the season-series. The Habs will really need to bring the A+ game to turn the fortunes around and make the most of what's supposed to be "Lucky Number 7".

Since dropping their first (and only) game to Montreal in game 4 of the series, the Senators have responded and rebounded in spades, winning their last 2 contests 6-1 and 3-0 respectively.

The line of Spezza centering Alfredsson and Heatley has been the NHL's most productive this season, combining for 106 goals. But the trio hasn't played any better than when they've faced the Canadiens.

Spezza has seven goals, Alfredsson four and Heatley three against Montreal in only five games apiece, and they've combined for 36 points.

If the Habs are to indeed turn their fortunes around, a lot of that destiny lies in the hands (and pads) of goaltender Carey Price.

Carey is fresh off a thrilling week which saw him play in some high pressure games, as the Habs played two games to round out the season-series with Boston by sweeping them 8-0. Price is keen to responding to pressure, as we've seen him do as a junior in the WJC leading Canada to gold, and as a minor-leaguer, leading the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs to the Calder Cup last season after joining the team very late in the season.

Price has lost both starts vs. Ottawa this season, but with the posibility of extending their Northeast lead to 7 points - and the dread of dropping the lead to 3 - Carey is expected to bring his own A+ game to the ice tonight.

Carbonneau stated Sunday that there would be no changes to the winning lineup, meaning Latendresse will continue to rest his ailing neck.

Ottawa have recently re-acquired Chris Neil's services, but will be without Chris Kelly who fractured his shin. Martin Gerber will start his 11th straight for Ottawa. Gerber shutout the Habs in Montreal the last time around on March 13th...a game I reluctantly confess to having attended.

Puck drop scheduled for 7:38.

with extracts from AP.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Habs Sweep Away Big Bad Bruins

Saku Koivu was the lone-scorer in the shootout, fooling Thomas in the 3rd round to give Montreal the season-sweep over the B's.

Thanks in large part to the 16 points they earned playing and winning against Boston this season, the Montreal Canadiens are making a serious push to win BOTH the Eastern Conference and the Northeast Division Championships.

The Habs (42-24-10) now own 94 points through 76 games, leading the Penguins by one point for the lead in the Eastern Conference (though the Penguins do have a game in hand). The race for 1st in the East will be tight and difficult until the very end, but the lead for the Northeast Division is a little more secure, as the Habs now own a 5 point lead over the Ottawa Senators, who also have a game in hand. Ottawa blew a 4-2 lead vs. the Maple Leafs last night, who were able to rally late in the second and twice in the third to win 5-4 in regulation.

The Canadiens victory over Boston did not come as easy as the others last night, as it was the first game of the entire series to require overtime - and even that didn't get things solved.

The Habs got on the board early in the first - 2:20 into it to be exact - as Andrei Markov was the recipient of a Phil Kessel give-away in Boston's zone, and he leaned into a heavy slapshot that went through both Milan Lucic's and Tim Thomas' legs for the unassisted tally. It seemed as though the decision to start Thomas - who had 4 wins in 16 career starts vs. Montreal - was backfiring early.

However, the Bruins would tie the game before the period's halfway mark. Marc Savard picked up a Zdeno Chara rebound created by a Carey Price save, wrapped around the net, and outhustled Carey Price to the far post. He wound up using Price's left pad as a deflector the tuck the puck into the open side, knotting the game at 1 apiece. Maybe the Bruins were going to win one after all?

Andrei Kostitsyn had other plans for that.

1:13 after Savard's tying goal, AK 46 was able to give the Canadiens their second lead of the evening burying a Mark Streit rebound passed a sprawling Tim Thomas. The goal came at the end of a Phil Kessel penalty and was registered as an even strength goal.

The Bruins would once again respond, this time courtesy Petteri Nokelainen in the 2nd period.

Nokelainen - a game-time decision by coach Julien to center the 4th line in place of Vladimir Sobotka - wound up paying dividends, perfectly deflecting home a hard pass from Mark Stuart from the near boards. The re-direct was perfect as it beat Price who was moving away laterally on a push-off.

Despite the 2 goals allowed by each 'tender, the goaltending was absolutely stellar, providing us with lots of nervousness and entertainment throughout the remainder of regulation and through overtime.

In the shootout, it was more of the same.

Zdeno Chara tried his luck first. Skating in, Chara cranked up and released a cannon slapshot. Problem was, it was practically dead-on Carey Price. Price was able to almost just stand there to make the save.

Mark Streit was up first for Montreal. Streit came in wide-right, moved in back to center, used a couple of pump-fakes, and tried for the five hole, which was shut-down by Tim Thomas.

Phil Kessel led things off in round 2. Kessel - 5-for-11 in shootouts - went to his favorite shot: a quick release wrister. The shot was well timed and well taken, but not exactly well placed, as it beat Price but rang squarely off the crossbar.

Alex Kovalev was next to try and give Montreal a lead. Moving in, Kovalev faked right, moved in left quickly, and tried sliding the puck under Thomas. Thomas didn't bite for any of it, and was able to stick with Kovy through to the end, getting the pad down and making the save.

Dennis Wideman was a surprise shooter at #3 for the B's...but would wind up giving Price the most trouble. Wideman came in hard, down the center, then slowed his speed to about half, pulled the puck to his backhand and flicked one low right corner. The puck appeared destined for the open portion of the net, but Price's quick reflexes allowed him to stick the right-pad out in a flash and kick aside the puck, setting up Saku Koivu for a potential winning goal.

Koivu - with 21, 273 roaring all around him - came in one-on-one with Thomas. He switched the puck over to the backhand, a move we see all too often before he pulling it back to forehand and beating goalies in shootouts. As he went to backhand, Thomas took notice, and prepared himself for that trademark Koivu deke.

But Koivu played the decoy card just right.

With the puck on his backhand, Koivu held it a little longer than usual, skated in tight with Thomas, and released the backhander high and under the arm of Thomas, who seems a little shocked by Koivu's choice of shot. The puck hit Thomas and squeaked through the arm and body, crossing the goal line and sealing the deal for the Habs in the final round of the shootout.

Habs go 8-0 vs. the Bruins this regular season, and extend their winning streak over Boston to 11 straight games, surpassing the mark of 10 set in the 1944-45 season! History has been made!

Carey Price was stellar once again, totalling 33 saves. Thomas had 29 in the OTL.

The Habs now prepare for a mega-matchup vs. the Ottawa Senators Monday night at the Bell Centre. With a win, Montreal would push it's lead over Ottawa to 7 points in the Northeast Division race; although with a loss, the gap will close to 3, with Ottawa maintaining it's game-in-hand.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Injury Bug Hits As Habs Host Bruins

The Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins will round out what has been a very special season series tonight at the Bell Centre, but a significant injury to Mike Komisarek may prevent Montreal from accomplishing the season-series sweep at 8-0.

Komisarek and the Montreeal Canadiens were dealt some bad news today, as both learned that Mike (the league leader amongst all NHL defensemen in hits and shots blocked) will miss the next three weeks due to what officials are only referring to as a "lower-body" injury. The injury will sideline Komisarek until the last couple of games at the very earliest, but is more likely to sideline him until the playoffs, with the possibility of him missing a few games in the 1st round.

It was also learned today that forward Guillaume Latendresse is suffering from neck spasms and will be scratched tonight, joining Komisarek on the sidelines.

Expected to be inserted into the lineup are forwards Bryan Smolinski and Steve Begin, as it appears that Mathieu Dandenault and Patrice Brisebois will continue to sit out with the team opting to convert Mark Streit back to defense.

Boston (37-28-9) are fighting valiantly to keep their playoff hopes alive - even though a high probability would have them facing their kryptonite-like Canadiens rivals in the first round. The Bruins have dropped to 8th in the standings with 83 points in 74 games, and have Washington nipping at their heels, as the Capitals are one point behind through 76 games. The Sabres follow up with 81 points through 75 games.

Boston's chances of gaining ground are highly improbable tonight as they visit the Habs at the Bell Centre, an arena where they've won but once in their last 12 visits. The Habs are winners of 10 straight against the Bruins at any builiding.

The Bruins can also thank the Canadiens (41-24-10) for being where they are in the standings.

If the Montreal games wouldn't have been played this season, the Bruins would have 5 more points than Montreal in the standings. You can also look at it this way: If the Bruins hadn't faced Montreal this year, they would have a 37-21-9 record, good for 83 points through 67 games.

Of course, the reality of it is that they DID face Montreal 7 times this season, and they DID lose 7 times to Montreal this season, and they ARE where they are because of it. Tonight's contest will likely be more about avoiding the sweep (and the humiliation) rather than gaining ground in the playoff race, a true rarity with teams going into the homestretch.

Puck drop slated for 7:08.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Habs Within One Of Season-Series Sweep

Alex Kovalev's 2 goals and 1 assist led Montreal to their 10th straight victory against the Bruins Thursday night in Boston.

Alex Kovalev had 2 highlight-reel goals and a highlight-reel assist as the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Bruins for the 4th time in Boston this season by a 4-2 scoreline.

Montreal's victory is their 7th of 7 this season vs. Boston, and their 10th straight against the Bruins, equalling a record for consecutive wins against the Bruins which was set in the 1944-45 season.

With the win, Montreal (41-24-10) re-gained sole possession of top spot in the Eastern Conference, leapfrogging idle New Jersey by one point with a total of 92, although Montreal have played 2 more games than New Jersey at this point in the season with 75 as opposed to 73. The Senators also won their contest tonight, as they came away with a 3-2 win on home ice vs. the lowly St. Louis Blues.

Kovalev has the game's first two goals, and the second was nicer than an already gorgeous first.

Alex Kovalev came in one-on-one with big Zdeno Chara. He executed a spin move (similar to the one was saw Brian Campbell of San Jose execute en route to his backhand goal a couple of weeks ago in SJ) and released a backhander that partly fooled and handcuffed goaltender Tim Thomas, allowing the puck to squeak through the gear and cross the line.

4 minutes and 2 seconds later, Kovy was at it again.

Lugging the puck out of his own zone, Kovalev gathered speed, broke through the neutral zone, entered Boston's zone with AK 46 acting as a possible pass recipient, burst through Chara and Wideman while executing a toe-drag of the puck, stickhandling to his backhand, and sliding the puck (kind of awkwardly, but still) through a sprawling Thomas' legs, much to the delight and euphoria of RDS commentator Pierre Houde. A great goal indeed!

Despite the great goal, Boston had the answer, and that buzzkill came a mere 27 seconds later, as defenseman Mark Stuart converted a blue-line slapper into a goal on a great effort from partner Shane Hnidy to keep the puck in-zone. The shot beat a screened Price 5-hole.

The Habs would put the game out of reach in the third, as Michael Ryder scored his 14th of the season capping a pretty feed from Saku Koivu, and Andrei Kostitsyn notched his 22nd capping a sublime pass from Kovalev, who dropped the puck before wrapping around the net, leaving Thomas completely fooled. AK 46 actually missed the initial chance, but powered through Thomas pads to jar the puck loose and passed the goal line.

The Bruins got one back late to make it 4-2 Montreal on Dennis Wideman's 12th, but that was as close as the B's would come on this night.

Boston has one chance left to attempt avoiding the 8-game season series sweep, and that chance comes Saturday evening in Montreal to cap the home-and-home series.

Carey Price stopped 34 of 36, while Tim Thomas kicked aside 26 of 30.

Mike Komisarek had 4 shifts and logged 2:45 of ice time in the 1st period before leaving the game with what has been described as a lower-body injury. On the play where we assume he was injured, Komisarek was crunched into the boards on two separate occasions by energy-forward Shawn Thornton. Mark Streit converted to defense for the game, and Alex Kovalev saw some added ice-time as he double-shifted often in Mike's absence.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Can Montreal Stretch It To 7-0?

The Montreal Canadiens return to the road for tonight's contest, visiting the Boston Bruins @ TD Banknorth Garden. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:08.

Montreal, fresh of a 4-3 upsetting by the Blues, are looking to push the season series with Boston to a flawless 7-0 with a win tonight. The Habs have won all 3 in Boston thus far to go along with their 3 victories vs. Boston on home ice. They will conclude the season series on Saturday with a matchup at the Bell Centre.

Montreal (40-24-10) has outscored Boston (37-27-9) 32-12 in six meetings this season, putting up five or more goals four times. The Canadiens scored their season high in their most recent win over the Bruins, 8-2 on Jan. 22 - their ninth straight victory vs. Boston. They have won 16 of their last 19 against these Bruins.

The win will be all the more important tonight as Montreal looks to pad its 3 point lead over Ottawa, who are heavily favoured to defeat the Blues on home ice tonight with the Blues wrapping up a season-high 9 game road trip.

Carey Price gets the start in goal for Montreal. In the 6 games played (and won) vs. Boston this year, Price has been in goal for 3, allowing a total of 7 goals - 4 of which came in a 7-4 Habs win.

Lineup notes:

-Bryan Smolinski and Patrice Brisebois are healthy scratches, as Guy Cabonneau will add more physicality to the lineup to match up against the physical Bruins; he will dress Maxim Lapierre and Ryan O'Byrne. Mathieu Dandenault, who has scored 3 of his 7 goals this season vs. Boston, is likely to remain a healthy scratch.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Blues Play Spoiler; Steal One Via Shootout

Brad Boyes had a goal in regulation and scored the shootout winner (above) as St. Louis upset Montreal 4-3 in a shootout.

The Montreal Canadiens let one they should of had slip away as they suffered a 4-3 shootout loss at home to the St. Louis Blues.

The victory was St. Louis' first road victory since February 14th. It was also St Louis' first win in 7 games of a 9-game road trip (1-5-1). Lastly, St. Louis held their rookie supper Sunday night, in which they tabbed a bill of over $39, to say a hangover would likely stretch through to Wednesday.

All signs were in favour of a Canadiens victory Tuesday - and, just as fairly, it was conceivable to anticipate a rout of the Blues - but the Blues came to play, and threw everything they possibly could muster at Jaroslav Halak, handing him his first blemish on home-ice. Halak's home record has now been dented to 8-0-1, yet he is still undefeated in regulation.

The Canadiens tied the game at one on a Christopher Higgins goal, as he slid home a backhander from the foot of the crease to cap off a great effort from linemates Grabovski and Sergei Kostitsyn.

They would take their first (and last) lead of the game midway through the second period, as Saku Koivu notched a PPG (his 16th on the season) on a rebound from a superb second effort shot from Chris Higgins, swatting home a loose puck off a Legace pad save into the empty net.

However, less than a minute later, Andy McDonald would completely surprise Halak with a slap-shot from the right wing that beat Jaroslav up high.
Before the second period could end, Brad Boyes was the recipient of a sublime and vintage-like pass from playmaker extraordinaire Paul Kariya, who collected a loose puck beneathe the Habs goal line and spun around to pass to Boyes who was waiting on the doorstep, unmarked. The goal was Boyes' 38th of the season (Let's not forget, the Bruins dealt this guy for DENNIS WIDEMAN).

The Habs needed an equalizer in the third, and they would eventually get it courtesy Grabovski's 2nd of the season, as he accepted another stand-out pass from young Sergei Kostitsyn and ripped home a wirster that beat Manny Legace top corner early in the frame.

The goal would hold up to earn Montreal a point, and in overtime, Montreal was the only dangerous team on the ice. Despite the shots being 3 apiece in OT, the Habs dominated puck possession in the extra frame, but were simply unable to convert their efforts into goals, leading to a shootout.

In the shootout, Brad Boyes would prove to be the only goalscorer, going backhand and lfting the puck off the post, off Halak and in in the second round. After A.Kostitsyn and Kariya missed their turns, it was up to Kovalev.

Kovy skated in with a packed house of 21, 273 behind him and hundreds of thousands more cheering on from living rooms and bars across the city...he moved to his backhand, seemed to have Legace beat, but couldn't quite get the puck to lift, eventually grazing Legace's ice-bound pad and sailing the puck wide of the net.

The Blues had stolen an extra point from them in Montreal, despite all the adversity they faced. Credit must be given to them; they came in trying to play the spoiler in a forgettable season, and did so in fashion, as this one extra point can go a very long way in determining Montreal's playoff seeding and possible home-ice advantage.
Montreal went 2-1-1 on their four-game homestand which concluded last night.

The Canadiens now lead Ottawa by 3 points, but the Sens have a game in hand.

The Habs next visit Boston Thursday, before returning home to host Boston on Saturday. Boston is currently 7th with 83 points, 3 ahead of 9th seeded Washington.
Montreal's 8 remaining games are vs. Division rivals, as they will face Boston, Ottawa, Toronto and Buffalo twice each, with both games alternating between cities perfectly.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Report: Sundin Nixed Trade To Habs

The Team 990 Sportscentre update by Ron Francis (not the NHL Ron Francis) reported that Cliff Fletcher had agreed to a trade on deadline day (Feb. 26th) that would've sent superstar veteran centerman Mats Sundin to Montreal in exchange for Christopher Higgins and 1st, 2nd and 3rd round picks in the upcoming draft. The report comes from the Toronto Sun.

Tomas Kaberle was also reportedly dealt but declined to be moved (thanks to the No - Trade Clause like Sundin). His deal was to Philadelphia for Jeff Carter and a 1st round pick.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Ball Is Back In Ottawa's Court

Jaroslav Halak improved his career home-ice record to 8-0, stopping all 30 shots he faced vs. the Islanders Saturday night for his 3rd career shutout.

The Montreal Canadiens were able to complete the season-series sweep of the Islanders for the first time in 11 years Saturday night by defeating New York 3-0. The win now places Montreal ahead of Ottawa by 2 points, putting the ball in Ottawa's court to try and go for the 2-pointer today in Carolina. The Sens are currently trailing Carolina 2-1 early in the 2nd period.

Jaroslav Halak got his 2nd start of the season since last starting 7 nights ago, earning a win in a 5-2 tilt with the L.A. Kings. Halak came up with 30 stops last night but was only truly tested on 4 or 5 occasions. It was Halak's first start at home in over a calendar year, and he was able to earn his 3rd NHL shutout. Halak has yet to lose at the Bell Centre, as he is now 8-0, having gone 7-0 as a rookie last year.

The Habs opened the scoring in the 2nd period as they were finally able to score on the powerplay, a feat they hadn't been able to accomplish lately, having gone 0-for-10 in their 4 previous games combined. Hamrlik pinched in and snapped home a rebound off a Chris Higgins shot that had been turned aside by the right pad of DiPietro.

In the third period, Alex Kovalev gave the Canadiens some insurance, converting on a 2-on-1 with Tomas Plekanec that all started off a scramble in Halak's crease. Bill Guerin threw a pass towards the crease from below Montreal's goal line and Halak got a stick to it, but wasn't able to freeze it despite his attempts to. Luckily so, in fact, because Andrei Kostitsyn would come up with the loose puck and would spring Plekanec on a 2-on-1 with Kovalev with a quick pass. Plekanec stickhandled in, drew as much attention as he could from DiPietro, then sent a saucer pass over to Kovalev right on the tape, and Kovalev - who took an extra second to make sure DiPietro wouldn't slide across and pull off a miracle save - potted the puck in the far top corner.

With just over 2 minutes remaining, Saku Koivu sent a beautiful pass off the boards that rebounded perfectly to reach Guillaume Latendresse, who would snap one low-blocker side on DiPietro, beating him on the angled partial breakaway.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Habs Host Isles: Not A Moment Too Soon

The Montreal Canadiens are in a tight race for first place in the Northeast Division. Matchups with the New York Islanders have only helped their cause.

The Canadiens look to retake the division lead and sweep their season series with the struggling Islanders for the first time in 11 years when the teams meet Saturday night.

Montreal (39-24-9) lost 3-0 to Ottawa on Thursday night, falling behind the Senators in the Northeast. The Canadiens and the Senators both have 87 points, but Ottawa has the lead because it has one more win than Montreal.

Both teams have 10 games remaining. The Senators are idle until a road game against Southeast Division-leading Carolina on Sunday.

Montreal, which would move from fifth to second in the Eastern Conference if it earns a point Saturday, is poised to return to the postseason after a one-year absence. The Canadiens' outstanding play against the Islanders (32-33-7) has helped them become one of the conference's top teams.

Montreal is 3-0-0 against New York this season, and has a chance to sweep the series for the first time since going 4-0-0 in 1996-97. The Canadiens also are 10-2-0 at home versus the Islanders since the start of 2001.

But Montreal needs to find a way to rebound after being shut out at home for the fourth time this season. The Canadiens, who scored 31 goals in their previous eight games, are second in the league with 227 on the season.

Rookie Carey Price, meanwhile, struggled in net against Ottawa after shutting out New Jersey two days earlier. The 20-year-old Price, now Montreal's No. 1 goalie, made 21 saves.

The Canadiens, however, did a better job of limiting the opposition's chances against Price after allowing 37 shots or more in each of their previous five games. Montreal will now face a New York team that's been struggling on offense.

The Islanders have scored two goals or less in eight of their last 11 contests, going 3-8-0 in that span to fall further in the East standings. They are eight points behind eighth-place Philadelphia with just 10 games to play.

"To be how close we were a few weeks ago and to be where we are now is frustrating," New York winger Blake Comeau said. "Until we're mathematically out, the guys in this room are going to keep pushing hard. Nobody is ready to lay down and die yet. We've got a great attitude in this room."

The Islanders may be without winger Ruslan Fedotenko for the second straight game. His status for this contest is uncertain after he injured his knee in an 8-4 loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday night.

Fedotenko, who has 16 goals and 33 points in 67 games, missed New York's 4-2 loss to Florida on Wednesday night. It was the Islanders' fourth straight defeat, and another disappointing game on offense.

New York's defense, though, hasn't been any better, allowing four goals or more in eight of the last 10 contests. Rick DiPietro is 1-6-0 with a 4.31 goals-against average in his last seven games.

This is the finale of a four-game road trip for the Islanders.

Associated Press

P.S. I will likely not be able to catch the game tmr, as I will be heading to St.Adele to DJ another house party (a chalet party to be exact). Should my assistants Pat or Karl be unable to type up a postgame report, I'll have the Associated Press' report up on Sunday afternoon, as I'll be away from a computer until then. Sorry, but ENJOY THE GAME!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Habs Run Into The "Classic" Sens In Loss

Jason Spezza had 2 powerplay goals in a 3-0 win over Montreal Thursday night, helping vault his team back into 1st in the Northeast Division.

The Jekyll/Hyde team of the NHL were in town to face the Montreal Canadiens last night, and they had their game faces on.

The Senators notched their 40th win by defeating Montreal 3-0, playing a positionally sound game and capitalizing on nearly all of their chances, all the while surpassing Montreal in the standings thanks to their regulation win.

The ruckus crowd at the Bell Centre was emotionally involved at the get go, but the emotions slowly (and eventually completely) dissipated as the Canadiens forgot to bring ENERGY to the contest, both in the early going and throughout the game.

The crowd was completely out of it by the time Spezza scored the Sens (and his own) 2nd powerplay goal of the game, by batting a rebound in off the back of Carey Price's leg from an Andrej Meszaros shot that hit the end boards. That offensively savvy play really put a stranglehold on the fans, as it became crystal clear shortly after that the Senators were switching into defensive mode, proceding to dump and chase the puck into Montreal's zone, all the while providing a very effective forecheck and eating as much clock as humanly possible.

Spezza scored his first powerplay goal and first goal of the game in the 1st period by deflecting a Cory Stillman point shot perfectly passed the beaten Carey Price, who to his credit did everything he could of, both on the play and in the entire game.

Antoine Vermette made it 3-0 with 1:59 remaining in the second, slamming home a rebound off of a Chris Kelly slapshot past a recovering Carey Price. Vermette quietly porduces when the Senators face Montreal, with the focus constantly on the "Pizza Line" of Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley.

Alfredsson was a surprising dress for the game, as many believed he would be a healthy scratch come game time. Carbonneau stated that he was certain Alfredsson would play however, after seeing him take a 45 minute morning skate earlier in the day.

The Habs have 2 games remaining with Ottawa, and are going to need huge efforts if they intend to steal away the Northeast crown from the defending Northeast champs. The Sens currently lead the season series 5-1.

Martin Gerber shutout the Habs for his 2nd shuout of the season and ninth of his career, despite an early heckling from the energetic crowd. Carey Price had 21 saves in the loss.

The best Habs player on the ice last night was - get ready for it - Guillaume Latendresse.

Lats effectively used his body on the majority of his shifts, and layed some punishing checks with his monstrous frame on the Sens defensive corps. His energy was about the only plus in a Habs effort that featured lazy forechecking, absymal passing and an overall flat energy level.

Montreal next faces the NY Islanders Saturday night at 7 p.m. If you are attending the game, go early, as they are going to be giving away free car flags to the first 10,000 fans arriving at the Bell Centre.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Pronger Gets Away Scott-Free

There has been some buzz in the NHL lately surrounding the idea that teams that are ranked higher than their opponent receive favourable calls from referees. Obviously, this is a very touchy subject for the NHL, however the referees are human and are likely, just like any of us, to make mistakes (as they do o so often). However, a spade should be called a spade and if the ref sees something that is penalized, the same should be done if a player does the same thing and is wearing a different jersey. Nobody, no matter how big a fan, should be in dis-accordance with that notion.

Not too long ago Chris Simon (New York Islanders) got a 30-game suspension for stomping on an opponent with his skate. Chris Pronger (Anaheim Ducks) has received no suspension AT ALL for doing what literally looks like the same infraction. Colin Campbell, who is in charge of suspensions for the NHL, has the privilege, unlike the referees in a game, to repeatedly look over the infraction and make his due judgement.

This decision from Colin Campbell, shows that skeptics might actually be right about the biases in the NHL right now. The Ducks are seen as last years Stanley Cup champions and losing their captain down the stretch can be devastating for them, but that in no way should allow him to get away with what he has gotten away with. Don't be surprised if the bad calls we see on the ice are co-related to the bad calls we see off the ice. The corruption seems to be leaking from within.

I have added the YouTube links from the Chris Simon and the Chris Pronger be the judge

Chris Simon (New York Islanders):

Chris Pronger (Anaheim Ducks):

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Habs vs. Sens With Division Lead At Stake

The Canadiens (39-23-9) host the Ottawa Senators (39-25-7) tomorrow night at the Bell Centre, with nothing short of the Northeast Division lead on the line.

The Habs lead over Ottawa is a mere 2 points, and with a regulation win for Ottawa tomorrow, they would have the same amount of points as Montreal, yet would have one more win on their record, vaulting them ahead of the Canadiens.

The Habs are 6-4-0 in their last 10, while Ottawa has gone 4-5-1. Montreal scored at least four goals in five of those victories, indicating that the offensive engine is running smoothly.

The season series has seen these two clubs play each other 5 of 8 times, and the results highly favor the Senators. Ottawa won the first three before dropping their first to Montreal this season on February 5th. The two met once again for game 5 on Feb. 9th, where the Sens posted their most dominating win over Montreal thus far this season, winning 6-1.

Spezza, Alfredsson and Heatley have combined for 12 goals and 33 points against Montreal this season.

The Canadiens, though, will get a bit of a break Thursday, as Alfredsson will miss his fifth straight game with back spasms.

Martin Gerber continues to be the go-to guy in Ottawa since Bryan Murray's return to the bench, and he is slated to start vs. Montreal tomorrow as well. He's 7-2-0 with a 2.46 goals-against average against the Canadiens.

His counterpart will be (without much surprise) Carey Price. Price is fresh off a stellar outing vs. the Devils Tuesday night. In a pressure game that had 1st place in the Eastern Conference on the line, Price's star shined brightly as he turned aside all 38 shots thrown his way en route to his second career shutout.

Montreal and Ottawa are the two highest-scoring teams in the NHL with 227 goals apiece, therefore it is more than safe to anticipate a high-scoring affair tomorrow night. I'll be watching from the heavens - that is, the blue section at the Bell Centre.

Leading The East Once Again!

Maxim Lapierre finishes a great setup from Sergei Kostitsyn for his 7th of the season.

Carey Price and Martin Brodeur reversed roles Tuesday night: Carey was the teacher, and Marty was the student.

Price stopped all 38 shots he faced en route to a shutout of the Devils in a 4-0 victory at the Bell Centre to kick off a four-game homestand. Brodeur faced 33 shots, allowing 4 goals.

The Habs (39-23-9) have jumped ahead of the Devils (40-24-6) in the Eastern standings and into first place by a single point; however, the Devils own a game in hand on Montreal.

The Senators kept pace with Montreal, defeating Boston 4-1 Tuesday night to remain 2 points behind their Northeast Division rivals.

The win didn't come as easy as the scoreline suggests Tuesday night.
Carey Price had to be sharp early and consistently in the game, as the Devils peppered him with a barrage of shots, shooting 20 times in the first period alone. The Habs had 14 shots in the period, yet were able to come out of it on top by 2 goals to none. Bryan Smolinski scored the first goal of the game, taking a drop pass from Tom Kostopoulos and catching Brodeur off-guard with a wrister from the far boards, beating Marty high glove side. With under two minutes remaining in the frame, Saku Koivu completed a perfect give-and-go passing play with Sergei Kostitsyn (who had an incredible game) to double the lead to 2-0.

The 2nd period was more of the same, as Price faced (and turned aside) 13 more shots, while Brodeur faced a mere 4 shots on goal, allowing yet another goal.

The 3-0 tally came courtesy Maxim Lapierre on a play where the Devils were caught napping on a bizarre delayed-offside/linechange. A Devils player and a Habs player were tied up near Carey Price's crease, and as the rest of the Devils team looked on, the Canadiens broke the play out the other way, setting up a 3-on-2 situation which eventually boiled down to a 2-on-1.

Sergei Kostitsyn got control of the puck and had Maxim Lapierre on his wing, with defenseman Andy Greene bewteen them. Sergei sent a perfect pass at the last moment through Greene's skates, who made the rookie-esque mistake of guarding the puck carrier rather than the potential recipient. With Greene's and Brodeur's focus on Kostitsyn, Lapierre was wide open for the pass, should it have gotten to him...and it did - right on the tape. Lapierre slam-dunked it home passed a sprawling Brodeur for his 7th of the season.

The Habs decided to come alive on the shot-counter in the third, outshooting the Devils 15-5 in the final stanza.

Michael Ryder added the final goal of the game, whacking home a loose-puck off a Maxim Lapierre rebound which may have had the juice to go in on its own anyway. Ryder did indeed make the right decision by ensuring the puck crossed the line as he tallied his 13th of the year.

The Habs won their first season-series vs. New Jersey since last doing so in the 92-93 season, en route to capturing Lord Stanley's Cup.

A grand total of 4 penalties were called in the game, splitting evenly at 2 per team.

All the talk was about the standout performance put on by Carey Price after the game.

"He was great," Devils forward Zach Pariese said. "He made some unbelievable saves at big parts of the game, when it was 1-0. He was awesome, what else is there to say? He definitely came to play tonight."

''It's impressive to watch him,'' Brodeur conceded. ''We had a lot of good chances. ''What I like is the way he moves to get rebounds and get the puck. His future is very bright. He'll get tested in the next few years with the pressure here.''

The final minute of the game was played throughout a sustained ovation which was punctuated by a load roar from the customary crowd of 21,273 at the final siren. The crowd was as electric as we've seen in a long time, a sound barrier resembling that of a playoff series.

"It's nice to get their support," Price said. "It definitely gets you motivated when they're doing that. It's pretty tough to not be ready for the next shot when you're hearing those kind of screams."

The Canadiens next host the Senators Thursday night with the Division lead on the line, and I'm looking forward to being in attendance at the Bell Centre for that one.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Eastern Powers Collide

The Canadiens failed to take over the Eastern Conference lead over the weekend, but they're hoping to move ahead of the New Jersey Devils for the top spot when the teams finish their regular-season series tonight at Bell Centre.

Montreal (38-23-9) opens a 4-game homestand after going 2-2-0 on a road trip that concluded Sunday with a 3-1 loss to Anaheim.

Two points ahead of Ottawa in the Northeast Division, the Habs are 9-4-0 since a three-game skid from Feb. 7-12. Montreal hopes to build on this recent surge and return to the playoffs for the third time in four seasons after missing out in 2006-07.

Before reaching the postseason, however, Montreal will look to beat New Jersey (40-23-6), which maintained its one-point lead in East with the Canadiens' most recent defeat.

The Canadiens hope to win the season series from the Devils for the first time since taking two of three contests in 1992-93 en route to their last Stanley Cup title.

Montreal posted a 2-1 home victory on March 1 in the teams' most recent meeting, giving it back-to-back wins against the Devils for the first time since Nov. 11, 1992-Jan. 20, 1993. The Canadiens haven't won more than two straight in the all-time series since a four-game run, spanning two seasons from Oct. 10, 1988-Oct. 13, 1989.

It might be hard for the Canadiens to move closer to that mark with Martin Brodeur in net for the Devils. Brodeur made 42 saves in his 27th straight start Saturday, leading New Jersey to a 2-1 victory at Toronto.

Brodeur is 1-2-0 with a 2.02 GAA and a shutout in three games versus Montreal this season. He is 34-14-0 with five ties, eight shutouts and a 1.76 GAA in 53 all-time meetings.

The Montreal native, who had won four straight games at Bell Centre prior to that March 1 loss, is 14-11-0 with a tie, four shutouts and a 1.77 GAA in 26 starts in his hometown.

Associated Press

Monday, March 10, 2008

Habs Go 2-2 On Pacific Road Trip

Ducks winger Chris Kunitz celebrates scoring the go-ahead goal in a 3-1 Ducks win.

Chris Kunitz scored the go-ahead goal with 7:24 remaining and the Anaheim Ducks tied a franchise record by extending their home winning streak to seven games with a 3-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday night.

Samuel Pahlsson added a short-handed goal 33 seconds after Kunitz's goal for the defending Stanley Cup champions, who were coming off consecutive shutout losses. Todd Marchant also scored and Jean-Sebastien Giguere made 20 saves to win for the 10th time in 12 starts after losing each of his previous five.

Alex Kovalev scored and Carey Price made 34 saves for the Canadiens, who are 9-17-0 with five ties against reigning NHL champions since winning their last Stanley Cup in 1993.

The victory kept Montreal a point behind New Jersey in the race for the best record in the Eastern Conference.

The Canadiens brought the NHL's most efficient power play into the game against an Anaheim squad that was averaging a league-worst 19.3 penalty minutes. They had four power plays, coming up empty each time. It was just the third time in 15 games that the Habs didn't get a power play goal.

Alex Kovalev notched his 30th of the season in the defeat, as he took a pass from Mikhail Grabovski from beneathe the goal line to one-time a snap shot past J.S. Giguere to tie the game at 1 in the 1st period. Grabovski deserved full marks on the play, as he hustled his way passed a defender to the loose puck and managed to saucers a pass trhough two defenders, all the while luring Giguere away from his post, allowing for the easy Kovalev tally.

Grabovski centered Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn, as Habs centerman Tomas Plekanec missed his 1st of the season as he suffered from the flu. Grabovski played a very good game, and possibly the best amongst all Habs skaters.

The Habs schedule does not get much easier; The Canadiens will face the Eastern Conference leading New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night in Montreal to begin a 4-game home-stand, having won the last two meetings by one-goal margins after losing 4-0 at New Jersey on Nov. 30.

They will then host the Ottawa Senators Thursday night, a team they are desperately trying to hold off in the race for top spot in the Northeast Division. They currently lead Ottawa by 2 points, and both teams have 12 games remaining on the schedule as of right now.

The competition will then let up as the Habs host the New York Islanders Saturday. The Isles have fallen to 12th out East and are currently 7 points out of the 8th and final playoff spot.

This report contained extracts from the Associated Press match recap.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Habs Leave Hollywood On High Note

Anze Kopitar is dejected with himself; Plekanec celebrates with AK 46, as the latter notched his 21st of the season in a 5-2 win over L.A.

The Canadiens were able to put together a winning effort to improve their 4-game road trip record to 2-1 with a win over L.A. on Saturday afternoon despite being outshot for the 3rd consecutive game.
The Habs face the Anaheim Ducks tomorrw (Sunday) night at 8 p.m., after having lost to San Jose Monday and having defeated Phoenix and L.A. Thursday and Saturday, respectively.

Jaroslav Halak was between the pipes in Los Angeles for his first start of the season and first since April 5, 2007, when he was pulled after two periods in a 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers. He served as the backup the previous 22 games.

Patrice Brisebois opened the scoring 5:09 into the 2nd period after the Kings had a Tom Preissing powerplay goal disallowed in the first period on a phantom call that the referees described as "unintentional intereference" (yeah, I've never heard of it, either...but I'll take it!)
Breezer took a slap-shot to keep the puck in at the blue-line which ended up re-directing off Anze Kopitar's skates and through Kings goaltender Erik Ersberg's pads.

2:31 later, Saku Koivu re-directed a perfect slap-pass courtesy Mark Streit from the blue-line on the powerplay to extend the Habs lead over the Kings by 2 goals. The deflection beat Ersberg over the glove-shoulder, leaving Ersberg absolutely no chance for the save.

5:03 after Koivu's goal, it was Latendresse's turn to bulge the twine. Guillaume took a perfect feed from young Sergei Kostitsyn from the boards and beat Ersberg under the arm for a 3-goal Habs lead.

However, late in the 3rd, Rob Blake would make things interesting again by tallying a PP goal off a rebound from Mike Cammalleri. Anze Kopitar also drew an assist on the goal.

The Habs kicked the third period off in style, as 3:49 in, Andrei Kostitsyn would bury a puck fed to him by Tomas Plekanec. Moments earlier on the play, Andrei had rung the puck off the far post on a wrister.

Just under 3 minutes later, Anze Kopitar would score off a great pass from Patrick O'Sullivan beneathe the goal line. The goal was a result of a very solid forecheck from the young O'Sullivan, who has been showing great potential while playing alongside Kings forwards Kopitar and Brown.

With the contest deadlocked at 4-2, Tom Kostopoulos would ice it by taking a perfect feed from the end boards from line-mate Guillaume Latendresse, and potting the puck into the empty net with 1:53 remaining. The goal was the first for Kostopoulos against his former team in as many matches.

Halak was very impressive in his first start in 11 months, making 35 of a possible 37 saves. The Habs have now allowed 39, 39 and 37 shots in the 3 respective games played on their road-trip. They wound up with 5 goals on 23 shots tonight, including the Kostopoulos empty netter. Kostopoulos was in the lineup due to some disciplinary issues concerning Mikhail Grabovski.
The Gazette's Pat Hickey says Mikhail Grabovski, upset at being a healthy scratch againet the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday night, left Phoenix before the team on Thursday to fly to Los Angeles to meet with his agent, Gary Greenstin. Grabovski and Greenstin met with head coach Guy Carbonneay and GM Bob Gainey on Friday morning. The team decided not to discipline the rookie, but Carbonneau said he would not play on Saturday.

Montreal went 1-for-2 on the PP, while L.A. was 1-for-5.

The Habs will head off to Anaheim to prepare for an 8 o'clock start vs. the Ducks Sunday night. The Ducks have been shutout in 2 straight, losing 3-0 and 1-0 to Chicago and Colorado, respectively. The Ducks will be without Corey Perry for 6 weeks as the latter suffered a severe laceration of the right quadricep tendon. Anaheim has since recalled Bobby Ryan from Portland.

Despite winning, Montreal (85) trails New Jersey by a point (86) with the same amount of games played in the East at 69. New Jersey were the victors of a 2-1 overtime final in Toronto on Saturday night.
Ottawa also won Saturday night in Phoenix to keep pace with Northeast leader Montreal, and they now sit 5th out East with 83 points, tied with 4th place Pittsburgh, who have a game in hand as Ottawa has played 70 (and Pittsburgh have played 69).

Friday, March 7, 2008

Habs Hockey-Talkey Reaches Milestone!

This is Habs Hockey-Talkey's 100th article!!

Many thank you's to everyone who reads, enjoys, and spreads the word about Habs Hockey-Talkey! Writing for you guys is an absolute pleasure, because it's an absolute passion!

Thanks also to all of you who comment frequently; it gives the site that community-like atmosphere and feeling, vital to keeping a site like this afloat.

With 100 articles and nearly 2000 visits, it's safe to say that Habs Hockey-Talkey is a success so far...thanks everyone!

Price Rebounds In 4-2 Win Over Phoenix

Carey Price stops 37 of 39 vs. the Coyotes en route to a 4-2 win, including this stop on Mike York.

The Habs rallied from 2-1 down to score to three 3rd period goals to defeat the Coyotes 4-2 in Phoenix Thursday night. The win extends the Habs undefeated streak vs. Phoenix to 9 games, going 6-0-3(ties).

The Canadiens got on the board first in the second period, as Tomas Plekanec was able to fool Mikael Tellqvist through the legs on a wrister from a VERY tight angle along the goal line.

The Coyotes would first reply on a PPG from Shane Doan, as he deflected an Ed Jovanovski point slapper through the legs of cousin Carey Price.

Then, early in the third, Phoenix would jump ahead on another weak goal similar to the one Jody Shelley scored for San Jose 3 nights ago. Zbynek Michalek (younger brother of Sharks forwards Milan), kept the puck alive along the boards by speeding past Mark Streit. He continued his course along the boards, then unloaded a wrister that plain and simply beat Price above the shoulder, as he once again failed to properly hug his post and cover his angles, something he is usually very good for doing consistently. With that softee, the Coyotes had their first lead.

The lead would be shortlived, however, as the Habs would begin the comeback with a PPG from Saku Koivu nearly 3 minutes later. Alex Kovalev sent a puck on goal, which eluded Tellqvist and lay precariously in the crease. Higgins (who cannot buy goals when they are important) swatted at it on two or three occasions, missing it each time before being cleared away from the crease area by a defensemen. Luckily, captain Koivu was also in the mix, trying his luck, and the latter was able to knife the puck into the gaping cage for the equalizer.

Next, and this time just OVER 3 minutes later, Andrei Markov would score on the PP after drawing the penlaty on a Derek Morris slash. Kovalev would once again send a puck towards goal, but not quite ON goal. Instead, it was a direct pass off of the streaking Markov's blade, allowing for a re-direction past Tellqvist to put the Habs up for the 2nd time in the contest, and this time, with just under 10 minutes remaining.

Finally, to cap the evening off, the 4th Habs goal came with 1:41 remaining. As Sergei Kostitsyn collected a loose puck in his own zone, he raced over towards the end boards to begin what should have been a 2-on-2 transitional counter-attack with Chris Higgins. However, something went haywire on the Coytotes defensive duo, and BOTH defenders maintained their posts along the Habs blue line as Kostitsyn easily skated around them. Kostitsyn found himself on a 2-on-0 with Higgins, and, with recovering d-man Keith Yandle lunging for a desperation poke-check attempt, would send a cross-crease pass for Higgins. Higgins could have shot for what could have very likely been a goal then and there; instead, he one-two'ed a return pass on Sergei's tape, allowing Sergei to complete the tic-tac-toe play (despite his obvious surprise from the return feed). That is the second time this season we see such a play from Higgins, as he previously completed the same play with Michael Ryder finishing it off the 1st time a few months ago.

Things got a little rough after this. No gloves were dropped, but Ed Jovanovski would violently check Alex Kovalev in his own zone, before then punching him behind the head. Kovalev wuld hold onto Jovo's stick to aggrevate him further, and Jovo would follow through by jarring his stick loose and then using it to violently slash Kovalev's. Jovo would be penalized 2 minutes for roughing.

Carey Price was stellar all night long, with the lone exception on the Michalek goal. The Coyotes would fire 39 shots his way, as the Sharks did Monday; but Price would cut down his goals allowed from 6 to 2 to draw the win. He also stopped cousin Shane Doan on a breakaway early in the first, before Doan's eventual goal.

Phoenix outshot Montreal each period, 14-5 in the 1st, 16-8 in the 2nd, and 9-7 in the 3rd.

Montreal went 2/5 on the man advantage, while Phoenix went 1/6.

Montreal next faces Los Angeles Saturday at 4 p.m. The Kings stunned the visiting Senators Thursday night, shutting them out 2-0 on goals by Frolov and O'Sullivan. Goaltender Erik Ersberg of Sweden won his first NHL game in his fourth start for L.A., stopping all 40 shots he faced vs. Ottawa for his 1st career NHL shutout.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Price In For Tilt With Coyotes

The Phoenix Coyotes are hanging around in the Western Conference race, but they'll have to solve a long-time nemesis if they hope to make up ground.

The Coyotes will be trying for their first win against Montreal in nearly a decade on Thursday when they host the Canadiens.

Phoenix (34-28-5), which has not reached the postseason since 2002, is in 10th place in the Western Conference - three points behind Colorado and Nashville for the eighth and final playoff spot.

"We've got our work cut out," Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky said. "There's a tough haul ahead. But the light at the end of the tunnel is strong. Nothing will be given to anyone."

The Coyotes will be looking to end an even longer drought on Thursday, having lost five games and tying three others against the Canadiens (36-22-9) since a 4-2 victory Dec. 9, 1998. It is also the first meeting between the teams since Phoenix lost 5-2 at Montreal on Dec. 13, 2005.

The Coyotes have won three of five, including Wednesday's 2-1 victory in Dallas. Peter Mueller and Shane Doan each scored for Phoenix, which has managed only 10 goals in its last seven games.

Radim Vrbata, who leads the team with 27 goals, picked up an assist but has not scored a goal in a season-worst seven games. The Coyotes, meanwhile, managed only 16 shots after taking just 17 in Saturday's 3-1 loss to Calgary.

But while the Coyotes' offense has sputtered, goalie Ilya Bryzgalov has stepped up. He made 20 saves against the Stars and owns a 1.21 goals-against average while starting the last five games.
"Our goaltending has to be strong if we're going to make the playoffs," Doan said. "Bryzgalov has given us a chance. Our goaltending has been strong all year. That's why we're in this position."
The Coyotes have dropped three of four at home, but will be trying to halt that skid against Montreal, which is tied with Ottawa for the Northeast Division lead.

The Canadiens had a three-game winning streak snapped Monday, falling 6-4 in San Jose. Tomas Plekanec scored two goals and Ryan O'Byrne added his first NHL goal for Montreal, which opened a four-game trip against Pacific Division foes.

"We did some really good things, and we did some really bad things," coach Guy Carbonneau said. "We're playing well, but we still have a young team that's learning to play on these occasions. ... In the papers, everyone was talking about our defense and our goaltender, and we saw the results tonight."

Rookie Carey Price made 33 saves but struggled. Price is 3-1-0 with a 2.51 GAA in four starts since the trade that sent Cristobal Huet to Washington and had allowed just four goals on 92 shots in his first three games before Monday's loss.

"They go to the net hard, and I just have to work harder," Price said. "That's how you score goals in this league."

In 30 appearances, Price is 15-10-3 with a 2.78 GAA.Associated Press

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Habs Special Teams Ineffective In 6-4 Loss To Sharks

The Canadiens tied the game on 3 separate occasions, but trailed 4 separate times en route to a 6-4 defeat at the hands of the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavillion. The loss opens up a 4 game swing through 80% of the Pacific Division, excluding Dallas.

"Jumbo" Joe Thornton proved once more that he is a premier complete player in the league, using his size and skill to lead the Sharks to the victory. Joe wound up with 2 goals and 2 assists in the outing, and Jonathan Cheechoo figured in as well with a highlight-reel goal while adding two helpers as well.

Brian Campbell capped the evening off in style, as he tallied a powerplay goal late in the third period - his first as a Shark and 6th on the season - by coming in one-on-one with Mike Komisarek and executing a perfect spin-o-rama to get by the husky Habs defender, eventually releasing an ice-level backhander that fooled Price through his legs...another highlight-reel tally for SJ.

The Canadiens would tie the game at 1, 2 and 3, but the Sharks would finally pull away on a very weak goal from Jody Shelley, as he tallied his 1st of the season on a weak slapshot from the blueline as his linemates were changing. The dump-in wound up catching a favorable bounce off the ice and bounced up to beat Price under the arm. Price failed to properly position himself against his post, taking the shot for granted.

Cheechoo would then add insurance as he came in 1-on-2 vs. Boullion and Gorges. Cheechoo executed a toe drag to perfection around Gorges, and rather than help out, Boullion looked on, likely awaiting Price to make an aggressive pokecheck. Instead, both were caught watching, and Cheechoo finished the play off in style, going top corner past Price for the 5-3 lead and eventual game-winner.

Carey Price allowed a season-high 6 goals on 39 shots, while counterpart Evgeni Nabokov struggled as well, allowing 4 on 31, yet coming up with the all important "W".

The Canadiens top ranked powerplay went bone dry, failing to capitalize on 7 attempts. The Sharks cashed in twice on 5 opportunites.

Tomas Plekanec led the way for Montreal, tallying two goals, his 25th and 26th on the season. Maxim Lapierre and Ryan O'Byrne (1st NHL goal) also scored for Montreal.

Despite the loss, which snapped a three-game winning streak, the Canadiens were able to maintain top spot in the Northeast Division, as the Ottawa Senators dropped a 3-1 decision in Anaheim. However, they no longer lay claim to 1st in the East, as they are now surpassed by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Apart from two or three pretty goals from the Sharks, the game will likely most be remembered by the poor officiating put on display by referees Tim Peel and Chris Rooney. The duo seemed to miss call after call after call, with a larger load of missed calls going against the Habs (although San Jose endured their fair share of missed calls as well). They seemingly tried to make up for missed calls by calling some phantom penalties shortly after. It was very noticeable and an absolute terror to watch, but both teams tried their best to play through it.

The most noteable of all missed calls came on Joe Thornton's 2nd goal of the game. While on the powerplay, Patrick Marleau was creating havoc for Carey Price in the crease, and would eventually steamroll the Habs netminder after Price had made a save on a Thornton point-shot which involved the puck being cleared off the goal line by Habs defenseman Roman Hamrilik. Price would recover, pick up his stick which he had dropped in the missed goaltender-interference call, and get to his skates JUST in time to face another shot from Joe Thornton from the exact same spot. Price wouldn't have enough time to properly execute his save, and the puck would beat him through his legs for a 3-2 San Jose lead.

To put everything into basic perspective:

- The Habs D was weak;
- The goaltening was weaker; and,
- The special teams were altogether invisible.

The Sharks didn't play particularly strong and stingy defensive hockey as they are accusotmed, but they didn't have to either on this night.

Oh, and Criag Rivet won his personal battle with Josh Gorges in a "my new team will beat your old team" contest.

The Habs next visit Wayne Gretzky's Phoenix Coyotes Thursday night at 9 p.m.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Habs Win; Lay Claim To 1st In East!

The Montreal Canadiens put together a very solid effort on the ice last night and were able to come away with a gritty 2-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils, a team they have had so little success against in the recent years.

The win is the second for the Canadiens this season vs. the Devils, but SLIGHTLY more importantly, the win vaults the Habs ahead of their opponents and into 1st place in the East!

The Habs now lay claim to 81 points, one ahead of Atlantic Division leading New Jersey and Northeast Division rival Ottawa. As you can see above, the Sens have really struggled of late, going 3-5-2 in their last 10 and opening the door to being taken over...and taken over is what they have been.

The Canadiens (36-21-9) took it to the Devils as best they could, and found ways to solve the brick wall they call Martin Brodeur on two occasions last night. Couple that with the Devils solving Carey Price just once, and you have yourself a SOLID 2-1 victory on home ice to break open the new month with a milestone win.

This is the first time the Canadiens have been first in the conference after the All-Star break since March 1993 - the last time Montreal won the Stanley Cup (in case you've forgotten, which I doubt).

The Habs opened the scoring in the 2nd period on a PPG from Mark Streit, his 12th and 48th point of the season. Alex Kovalev sent a pass towards goal from his favorite spot - the side boards - which was deflected on Brodeur by Koivu. Brodeur made the save, but in doing so, sent the puck high into the air. During this time, Andrei Kostitsyn and Mark Streit pinched in towards the crease, and it was the latter who was able to bat the puck in mid-air and get it to go through the wickets of Marty Brodeur.

The Devils would reply in the second period, as Brian Gionta collected a loose puck that was lost by Price in a save. The puck lay low underneathe his blocker and away from his pad, effectively blocking his own vision from finding it. Gionta, however, was in the right place, as he was the only one on the ice able to see the puck lying there, and luckily for him, the referee had not blown the play dead. He scooped it out, took it to his backhand, and slotted it home past an unaware Carey Price.

The deadlock would be broken with 5:43 remaining in the third, as Andrei Kostitsyn - with parents in the audience - picked up a loose puck off a Plekanec rebound, wrapped around Brodeur's goal, and gave an extra dive which allowed him to increase his reach to tuck the puck in past the felled Brodeur to put the Habs up by a vital goal so late in the game. The goal came on the tail-end of a 5-on-3 powerplay. The Devils survived the 30 second 5-on-3, but could not hang on in the dying moments of the 5-on-4.

Mike Komisarek would then take a penalty 17 seconds later, but the Habs would kill it off thanks to a couple of solid stops courtesy 20-year-old Carey Price, giving them the boost they needed to hang in for the win. Price eventually wound up with 31 saves on the night, including this one (seen below), as Price robbed Jamie Langenbrunner on a golden opportunity to tie the game with his left pad. The chance occured during Mike Komisarek's stay in the sin bin, late in the third frame.

Alex Kovalev picked up his NHL-best 40th powerplay point of the year, drawing the second assist on Streit's goal.

When asked after the game about his 20th goal on the campaign, Andrei Kostitsyn replied "I want more." That's just beautiful, isn't it?

The Habs now prepare to face some unfamiliar foes this season as they embark on a 4-game road swing through the NHL's pacific division. They will face all teams excluding Dallas in the swing; they dropped their matchup to the Stars earlier on in the year in Dallas, in Mike Ribeiro's first match vs. his former team. He had collected a goal and 2 assists in the contest.

The schedule breaks down as follows (note the start times!):

Monday - Canadiens vs. Sharks---10:30 p.m.
Thursday - Canadiens vs. Coyotes-------9 p.m.
Saturday - Canadiens vs. Kings---------4 p.m.
Sunday - Canadiens vs. Ducks-------- 8 p.m.

The Habs will have to come up with HUGE efforts against the Sharks and Ducks in particular if they wish to keep their hold on 1st place for long.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Habs Trounce Sabres, Head Home To Face Devils

Carey Price won his second straight start since taking over as Montreal's top goalie, and Tomas Plekanec had three power-play goals for his first hat trick in the Canadiens' 6-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night.

Plekanec added an assist, Mark Streit had a goal and two assists, and Alex Kovalev had four assists for Montreal. The Canadiens moved ahead of idle Ottawa into first place in the Northeast Division with their sixth win in eight games.

Montreal has scored 11 goals in its last two games since being shut out by Columbus last Saturday, and its top-ranked power-play unit roughed up the Sabres by going 3-for-3.

The Canadiens, one point behind Eastern Conference-leading New Jersey heading into their game with the Devils on Saturday, have now connected five times over the past two games with the man advantage to raise their power-play efficiency rating to over 25 percent.

A noteworthy moment occured in a fight, as Guillaume Latendresse dropped the mitts with Nolan Pratt and dropped him with a straight jab to the chops.

The Canadiens played one of the most complete games we've seen of them so far this season, dominating the Sabres in pretty much every aspect of the game.

The banged-up Sabres front line was helped by the return of wingers Drew Stafford and Maxim Afinogenov. Stafford returned after missing 10 games because of an ankle injury, while Afinogenov missed the past 26 games because of a groin tear.

Still, their offense struggled after scoring eight times in a win against Nashville on Wednesday. The defense struggled as well, as Ryan Miller allowed 6 goals and saved 27 shots.

The Devils, who lead the Habs for the Eastern lead by a single point, are reeling from a home-ice shutout to the Capitals and newly acquired goalie Cristobal Huet. New Jersey suffered its first regulation loss in 10 games Friday.

The Devils, who own a one-point lead over Pittsburgh in the Atlantic, have followed a five-game win streak with back-to-back losses (0-1-1). They hadn't lost in regulation since a 2-1 defeat to Anaheim on Feb. 8.

New Jersey has won four straight at Montreal since a 3-2 loss on March 20, 2004.

The Habs and Devils have 2 games played (both in Jersey) and 2 remaining (in Montreal) on the season series. The Devils shutout Montreal 4-0 on November 30th, but the Habs played a stellar game led by Bryan Smolinski's 2 goals to come back and defeat a sluggish Devils team 4-3 on Jan. 24th. Huet was between the pipes for that win.

Brodeur, a Montreal native, is 9-1-0 with a 1.99 goals-against average in his last 10 starts against his hometown team. He had won nine in a row versus the Canadiens before the Jan. 24 loss.

The Habs are 0-5 vs. Quebecois goalies this season, having been shutout on 3 separate occasions.

Puck drop goes at 7:08.