Sunday, April 11, 2010
Habs hang on for point, Rangers-Flyers on tap
Earlier tonight in the big HNIC showdown, the Canadiens took care of their part by hanging on for a point in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Maple Leafs. It was a little too close for comfort in front of screaming Habs fans who had to be reminded of a couple of years prior when Toronto knocked their team out. This time, all their heroes needed was one point and they just made it to 88, ensuring a postseason to the crowd's delight. Jacques Martin's club will be either the seventh or eighth seed depending on the Rangers-Flyers winner this afternoon in what now amounts to a preliminary do-or-die game for the hated rivals.
Only one will make it. Even if it goes past regulation, the extra point has never had more emphasis than when the puck is dropped for the rematch at Wachovia. If the Rangers prevail, they would tie the Canadiens but lose the tiebreaker due to the season series, meaning they can only get a No.8 seed and a first round rematch with the Capitals. They'll set out to sweep the home-and-home looking to finish 8-1-1 after trailing by seven points two weeks ago. If they complete the mantra, it would be the greatest home stretch in franchise history. A loss and it's all for naught.
For the Flyers, the pressure's on. Especially in a season many expected them to challenge for the top of the conference and possibly a Cup. Instead, they limp in looking to avoid humiliation in front of one of the toughest fanbases. If Friday was intense, we can't imagine what this one will look like. A Philly win would push them ahead of Montreal due to more wins for seventh, with a possible 2/7 I-95 meeting with the bitter rival Devils who salted away the Atlantic thanks to a 7-1 rout of the Islanders combined with an Atlanta 1-0 win over the Penguins. New Jersey isn't locked into the No.2 seed. Just a point up on Buffalo who got a career best four goals from returning sniper Thomas Vanek in a 5-2 win that finally solved Ottawa, the Devils host the Sabres for the spot. All they need is a point while the Sabres must win in regulation. Meanwhile, the Senators are locked into the five and will face the Pens for the third time in four years. Regardless of what Boston does today in a meaningless exhibition on NBC instead of high drama (hint hint), they're the No.6 seed and can play either the Devils or Sabres.
As for Les Habitants, they got a goal and two assists from top defenseman Andrei Markov, who was the best player on either side. Ex-Devils Brian Gionta (28th goal) and Scott Gomez (2 assists) each contributed- helping their new team return to the playoffs. I guess you can say ex-GM Bob Gainey's madness worked out even if Mike Cammalleri remained ice cold with Jean-Sebastien Giguere silencing him. The former Duck Cup hero was pretty good finishing with 34 saves.
The Canadiens got the jump when Markov pounced on a loose puck and sent a backhand off a Leaf at 6:14. Despite a large edge in play, they couldn't add more. Instead, Christian Hanson scored the first of two tying it less than three minutes later. Gionta put his team back ahead with a power play goal, steering home a pass from who else but Gomez into an open side. Markov added an assist for his second point.
Everytime these two classic Original Sixes meet, the games are usually back and forth with extras. In fact, five of six were decided by a goal this season. So, it was little surprise that the Leafs playing for nothing else but pride came back three times to tie it. Rookie Viktor Stalberg knotted it at two when he took a Tyler Bozak feed and beat Jaroslav Halak upstairs. The Leafs had some chances to go ahead but couldn't get one past Halak, who fought the puck all night. Knowing what was at stake, the Canadiens responded thanks to a Gomez faceoff win resulting in Marc-Andre Bergeron's bomb off a Markov cross pass, reclaiming a 3-2 lead with 1:37 left in the second. They'd take it to the locker room.
With a chance to extend it thanks to a Colton Orr rough, instead the Habs allowed a tying shorthanded goal to Hanson. Taking a John Mitchell feed at center, he broke in from the left and fooled Halak with a backhand over his glove. In an exciting period that saw the clubs combine for 23 shots, there were some anxious moments. Each had chances to surge ahead but both netminders did the job. The final few minutes of regulation saw the Leafs buzz to nervous whistles from the Bell Centre that knew what just making it to the buzzer meant for their team. To put it frankly, the Habs hung on for dear life. When the buzzer sounded, you could hear collective exhales.
In OT, it didn't take long for the Leafs to end another disappointing season on a higher note when Hanson found a cutting Dion Phaneuf for a gimme at 2:06. In a classy gesture, both clubs remained on the ice to congratulate 25-year vet ref Dan Marouelli on his final game. Also HNIC's PJ Stock noted that in what possibly was Mike Modano's final game at where it all started, he donned a vintage Minnesota North Stars jersey to loud cheers in St. Paul. What a cool moment. Congrats also to Steven Stamkos who becomes the third youngest player to ever score 50 netting a pair along with the shootout winner in a 4-3 home win over the Panthers. And finally, Henrik Sedin notched four assists to leap frog Alexander Ovechkin for the Art Ross lead with 112 points (29-83-112). His regular season is done while Ovie's concludes against the B's. Henrik leads 112-109. Great stuff.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Scott Gomez, Mtl (2 assists, 4 SOG in 21:50)
2nd Star-Christian Hanson, Tor (2 goals incl.SHG plus assist)
1st Star-Andrei Markov, Mtl (11th of season, 2 assists, 2 SOG, +1 in 25:01)
EASTERN PLAYOFF PICTURE
+1.Capitals 81 GP 120 Pts
*2.Devils 81 GP 101 Pts
*3.Sabres 81 GP 100 Pts
*4.Penguins 81 GP 99 Pts
*5.Senators 82 GP 94 Pts
*6.Bruins 81 GP 89 Pts
*7.Canadiens 82 GP 88 Pts
8.Flyers 81 GP 86 Pts
9.Rangers 81 GP 86 Pts