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.

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