I shall be forever in debt to the Mighty HF29 for having invited me to the slaying that took place for, um, forty minutes at the Alexander Graham Bell Centre last night.
The fans created a nervous buzz around the building just before game time. With a sun shining proudly past 6pm, a very big game on tap, and the temperature rising ever so slightly, Montreal caught its first glimpse of a playoff atmosphere. The beauty is that this team has been on such a consistent roll since January that there was never much of a platform for playoff hype; their ticket to ride in the Spring appeared, if not booked, then put on lay away for some time now. For the first time in ages, Montreal just glided in the playoff picture, not needing the insane pressure of 18 MUST WIN GAMES for a feeble clutch of eighth place.
All the Habs needed last night was a statement game that could wipe-out the enduring torment served by 5 losses in 6 games that all exposed Montreal as a far weaker opponent, as a team that wasn't even in the Senators' league.
Did Montreal ever turn the tables. For 40 minutes of play, it looked like the billing flashing outside on the building's billboard read:
"Tonight: NHL Hockey: Montreal Canadiens v. Muppet Babies"
The puck dropped and Montreal immediately began to execute Plan Emancipation for 40 Minutes . The 4th line pounded everything in white and an awkward logo. Menachem Begin led the way with furious hits to the tune of Menachem circa 2005-06. The passes were crisp and all 4 lines peppered Martin Gerber with shots coming from and heading towards all directions, including his gaping 5-hole.
The Habs left the ice in the first with a 3-0 lead and a standing ovation from the Forum faithful. As soon as the crowd recovered from euphoric bliss, it reverted back, during the first intermission, to scenes of carnage from games before, and was soon reminded of Ottawa's scoring potential. Like a machine gun, Ottawa could explode into such rapid fire that damage would already have been severely inflicted before the Habs could react. A 3-0 lead could conceivably turn into 4-3 wizardry before you knew it.
But the Habs must have known that because the second was better than the first. And for another 20 minutes, they were dominant.
Ray Emery led a hopeful squad back onto the ice to start the period. Quite charming as, HF29 and I were quick to point out that the Rayzor (is that how you spell moron?) had not even made it to the bench or makeshift backup seat across from the bench in time for the first period. "I thought the game was at the old Forum, really." Asshole. Well, Emery couldn't do much better. Montreal took the game to the Sens with an even greater sense of purpose and disassembled the team from top to Spezza. For 40 minutes, the Senators' big line was completely silenced. For two periods. Where they had so often tallied a combined 12 point production against Montreal, Heatley, Alfredsson and Spezza looked like they were playing the game in a different continuum. Montreal had succeeded in making them look ordinary. For 40 minutes.
The pretty passing plays were rattling of the sticks of a team that is THE most potent offence in the entire NHL (pause for risk of aneurysm). Kovalev put on another exhibit of moves that should be bottled up and put on display at the Smithsonian. For 40 minutes. The bigger of the Tits reached the 25-goal mark, a figure Chris Higgins also climbed close to on this night with his 23rd of the season. This team dishes the puck out with elegant skill, but as elegance commands, they do it with quiet grace. Andrei, Pleks, Higgins, they all quietly surpassed the 20-goal plateau. And they were looking for more, during those 40 minutes.
You know for 40 minutes of hockey, the D squad played with pride and intensity, this after having lost its anchor in Mike Komisarek. Make no mistake about it, this kid is Scott Stevens and he means as much to the Habs as the latter did to the Devils. It's a huge loss to a team that has been spared injury, but they are showing they can hold the fort until the playoffs when Komo is scheduled to return. Markov played 2 periods like a fan of Norris (not Chuck) with Gorges and Bouillon stepping into the offensive zone when needed,... although needed for 60, did so for 40.
Montreal owned Ottawa in that second and, this time, left the period to the vibrations of another standing ovation, stirred by the 7-1 lead they had just created. 2 periods of excellence, the playoffs were a formality now, if they weren't before.
There was just no way, the way this game was shaping up, that Montreal could wet the bed. Not after 40 minutes of perfection.
What do you think 29?....I hear footsteps....