There are moments throughout a season that can turn the emotional tide for a hockey team. The Montreal Canadiens just had one.
While the Habs might just be playing for pride the rest of the way, they showed that they have some. The boys in bleu, blanc et rouge battled back on the scoreboard and on the ice to beat the Calgary Flames 4-2.
Battling from behind encore
Once again, the Habs found themselves down early. Just over two minutes into the game, Mikael Backlund simply got body position on the much slighter Chris Wideman in front of the net. It was as elementary as tipping home Oliver Kylington’s point shot for the Flames as they jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead.
The game appeared to be right in Calgary’s wheelhouse. The Flames were 7-0-1 after scoring first going into the game. The road team began tightening the noose in the neutral zone and started lulling the Canadiens into submission.
As has been the case lately, Nick Suzuki was central to the Habs finding their footing. Mike Hoffman knocked down a rim around the boards at the blueline. Instead of wiring a shot into traffic, Hoffman zipped it towards Suzuki in the slot for a tip towards Jacob Markstrom. The puck fell to Toffoli to the left of the Flames net and the Canadiens forward somehow put the puck off the post. Ben Chiarot anticipated the play well and was first to pounce on the rebound, joining Hoffman as the team’s joint top scorer with four. More importantly, the home team were back on level terms at 1-1.
The Montreal Canadiens took control of the momentum the next seven minutes before Calgary took the lead again. Toffoli got caught just inside the Flames zone and Calgary took off on a 3-on-2. Sean Monahan found Andrew Mangiapane with a seam pass skating towards Jake Allen’s back post. Mangiapane, who was fantastic throughout, took the puck off of his skate to the forehand. Down on one knee, the Flames forward brought the puck back to his backhand in the blink of an eye and beat Allen glove side to restore Calgary’s advantage at 2-1.
The Flames were riding a five-game road winning streak into this one and they played like they knew what to do with a lead in enemy territory. Calgary started to squeeze the life out of the Canadiens in the second period with the Habs hardly able to lay a glove on them offensively.
Shockingly, the Canadiens found new life on the power-play of all places. After some great player and puck movement on the man advantage, Chris Wideman’s drive from the point deflected off Markstrom and hit the post. Brendan Gallagher was in his office and beat Chris Tanev to the rebound to even proceedings up once again.
But it was what happened afterwards that ignited a spark in the Montreal Canadiens that kept burning the rest of the way. Erik Gudbranson crushed Gallagher with a vicious cross-check to the face of the Habs forward. Toffoli returned the favour with a cross-check to the Flames defenceman’s back. And everything kicked off after that.
Amongst the many calamities that have befallen the Habs to this point, one of the more frustrating parts of their game has been their lack of push back. For a team that valued character so much in their run to the Cup final, the Canadiens have looked meek and soft 15 games into the season.
Not tonight! Although undersized compared to their opponents, Suzuki, Wideman, Gallagher and Toffoli had no problem fighting off the Flames. The scrap energized not only the crowd but seemingly the players to a man. There was a noticeable uptick in battle level from that point on. The Habs realized they weren’t made of glass and were up for anything the rest of the way.
The spectacular Suzuki
In the third period, the Montreal Canadiens carried over that momentum to both ends of the rink. Where it was the Flames keeping the Habs to the outside the first 40 minutes, the Canadiens flipped the script on Calgary. The visitors couldn’t get to the inside and their attacks were mostly one-and-done in the Habs zone.
With eight minutes left in the game, the Canadiens grabbed the earned lead courtesy of their best player. On the power-play, Hoffman made a great defensive play in the neutral zone to stop a potential odd-man rush by the Flames. He head-manned the puck to the streaking Suzuki and the Habs centreman did the rest.
Suzuki, who now has 14 points in his last 11 games, drove down the right into the Flames zone. He held on to the puck to the outside and started to turn to drive behind the net. As fans of the Owen Sound Attack and Guelph Storm would know, Suzuki loves to try and bank pucks in off the goaltender. He did just that as he caught Markstrom out of position and put the puck off the Calgary netminder’s pad and into the net for the Canadiens second power-play goal of the night and the 3-2 lead.
Button down the hatches
The Flames pushed hard for the equalizer but the Habs were up to the task. The group put in the collective effort needed to defend a one-goal lead late. The Canadiens blocked a myriad of shots. They were first to loose pucks. The forwards and defencemen supported each other in their own zone and despite Calgary’s push, held them to just six shots in the third period. Allen answered the call on two slot chances by Dillon Dube and that was that. Jake Evans, who also had an impressive game, outworked three Flames players down low and put the puck into an empty net to send the Bell Centre faithful home happy for just the third time this season.
Beating a hot hockey team was the best way for the Montreal Canadiens to end their home stand. They now head out on the road for a back-to-back this weekend against Original Six rivals the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins.