If the Robinson family had been served an injustice in the way of time spent waiting for the long anticipated arrival of this day, all seemed forgiven at centre ice last night. And if Habs fans were afforded the luxury of reminiscing during the festivities, the Ottawa Senators made a quick point that that was then and that this was now.
As the banner bearing Robinson’s name and number took flight, you had to wonder if it gave an on-looking Jason Spezza a glimpse of what following a certain other number 19's climb to the rafters would feel like. In any case, he played as if those plans were on his mind.
In a perfectly fitting tribute that gave every Canadien the motivation and pretext to play inspired hockey for the one who helped build the mystique that surrounds this team, we were reminded that no NHLer could be unaffected by a moment of this magnitude. And so if all things remained equal and the ceremonies also heightened Ottawa’s passion for the game, the Habs were riding on wishful thinking if they hoped to punctuate this evening with a fitting conclusion.
Although the Canadiens threw their insides at Ottawa early on, Martin Gerber turned everything aside. The Habs’ shooting gallery played the same trigger-happy game that saw them direct 52 shots at Boston’s Tim Thomas on Saturday. By the first period’s 13th minute, the Habs already had 14 shots; that made it 66 shots in their last 73 minutes of play. This time around, Montreal had nothing to show for it.
The Senators’ forwards responded in kind by giving the Habs’ defense corps fits in their own zone. They found ways to thread short passes through narrow corridors around Cristobal Huet’s crease. They found holes through the Montreal blueliners, and if the openings weren’t immediately there, they created them with incredible speed.
Talent won this game. Sure, inspiration can whip players into responsive, even eruptive states. But by nature, motivation fades and unyielding effort will come to the surface to claim the last word. By the time the Sens had made it 2-0 in the first, all residual effects of the Robinson ceremony had dried up. And Montreal was destined to play catch-up against the best team in the league.
You would expect that a perfect scenario paint a Montreal victory in extended logic of a memorable evening. These brittle hopes don’t work if the Senators are introduced into the story. Start the plotline anyway you want, but enter the Senators and it seems of late to only end one way: Sens win.