It’s hockey, so there should be no great surprise if largely bloodless encounters suddenly devolve into mayhem.
At the final horn of the Montreal Canadiens’ stultifying 2-0 victory over the Buffalo Sabres, the crummiest team in the NHL, bodies started flying, piles started building, Team Canada goalie Carey Price shed his catching glove and grappled with Buffalo’s Cody Hodgson.
“At the bottom of the pile I was like, sorry man,” Price said later, “I didn’t mean to land on you.”
In the event, Tyler Ennis, who started the melee with a cross-check on Habs defenceman Andrei Markov – who reciprocated with a vicious two-handed slash – and landed on top of Price.
In the immortal words of Ron Burgundy, “well, that escalated quickly.”
If Price and the Canadiens could afford to smile about it afterward, it was because of the result.
The regulation win – and Price’s fifth shutout of the season, he stopped 24 shots – gives the Habs 89 points, and with the anticipated cutoff for the playoffs at 91 points in the east, a post-season berth seems like a foregone conclusion.
Now all that’s left to be determined is whether the Habs can capture home ice for the first round, a head-to-head date in Tampa Bay next week against the Lightning – who are two points back but have two games in hand – will go a long way toward answering the question.
Since snapping a three-game losing streak on Mar. 12, the Habs have gone 6-1.
They haven’t always been perfect performances – take the white-knuckle 2-1 shootout win in Boston on Monday – but Montreal is just one late-game turnover (against the Columbus Blue Jackets) away from a seven-game winning streak.
“It wasn’t the prettiest one,” winger Thomas Vanek said of Tuesday's triumph against his former team, “but we found a way to get it done.”
Another former Sabre, Daniel Brière, put the game beyond question with a snipe into the top corner – the same corner he aims for during his elaborate pre-game warmup routine – with just over three minutes to play, Max Pacioretty had put his club on the board with his 32 of the season and 100 of his career at the 10:53 mark.
Afterward, Brière allowed that after the high emotions of playing hated rivals Boston and Toronto in the space of three days (Montreal also beat Toronto last Saturday in a game Brière said “we absolutely had to have”) it was a little tricky to get their collective dander up for this one.
“It was tough to come back . . . tonight was kind of the forgotten game, no one was really talking about it (in the room),” the 36-year-old veteran said.
That much was evident on the ice.
Other than a sparkling Price save on former teammate Matt D’Agostini in the first period – he denied the winger on a point-blank shot from the goalmouth – there were precious few moments for the fans to get excited about.
In the second, D’Agostini hooked former Sabres star Vanek as he cut to the middle of the ice and got an extra two for mouthing off to the officials about it; on the ensuing four-minute power-play, the Habs contrived to register precisely zero shots.
In the Buffalo net, rookie Matt Hackett, the nephew of former Canadiens goalie Jeff Hackett, was equal to the task, although in truth he wasn’t seriously threatened through much of the opening two periods despite facing nearly twice as many shots as Price.
The exception to the rule was a dangerous-looking wrist shot in the second off the stick of Pacioretty, which Hackett nevertheless snared comfortably.
Early in the third, Hackett once again turned Pacioretty away, this time from just outside the crease after a gorgeous Vanek power-play set-up from behind the net.
Mid-way through the third, seconds after Montreal killed off a hooking minor to hulking defenceman Douglas Murray, David Desharnais slid a pass to Vanek, who delayed for a fraction of a second, moved to the middle, and fired a pinpoint pass off Pacioretty as he and Desharnais crashed the net.
The puck appeared to carom off Buffalo’s Mike Weber and Hackett before sliding slowly over the goal line.
With just over three minute to play, Hodgson scooped up a loose puck and served a slinky outside-inside move on Habs defenceman Mike Weaver, but Price made the save.
Then it was over to Brière, who picked the top corner after grabbing a bouncing puck in the corner.
It wasn’t an oil painting, but in a result-oriented business, the Habs will take it.