This is a case where facts don’t reveal all.
Going into Wednesday, the Montreal Canadiens’ Dale Weise had played in six career playoff games, scoring zero goals.
Therefore, it’s tempting to think what the Winnipeg native did at 18:08 of overtime – score the winning goal for his childhood faves – is something he’s never done before.
Only partially true, as it turns out.
Weise estimates he’s done that very thing “a million [times]. I scored on the driveway, I scored on the outdoor rink for the Montreal Canadiens to win it in overtime. This is a dream come true.”
At this point it’s also worth mentioning that the Canadiens are now 13-4-1 in games where Weise, acquired from the Vancouver Canucks in a February trade, has dressed; he was a healthy scratch for three games in early March and missed six more with a wrist injury later in the month and into April.
This was a weird kind of night, one where a 25-year-old career fourth-liner could fulfill a lifelong dream, where an Olympic champion goaltender would give up four goals on the first 16 shots he faced (a reasonable person would only blame him for one of them), and where there would be seven comebacks from one-goal deficits but only two lead changes.
After the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Nate Thompson was denied by Habs goalie Carey Price – who saved his best work for overtime – and defenceman Josh Gorges dove in to steal a sure goal off Tampa forward Alex Killorn’s stick, after Valtteri Filppula was thwarted by an open net and Montreal’s Max Pacioretty kissed a two-on-one shot off the post to Anders Lindback’s right, it was time for the Big Weise-y to do his thing.
The spotlight always shines on the guy who does the scoring, but it’s worth rewinding a couple of steps.
Fourth-liners Weise, Daniel Brière (who now has 110 points in 109 career playoff games) and playoff rookie Michael Bournival had enjoyed a strong game, but hadn’t seen the ice much in the third period of a tie game.
“[Bournival] is the one who started it all on the overtime goal. At the start of the shift, he had two guys on his back, the puck was in the corner, but he found a way to get there first and get me the puck behind the net,” said the 35-year-old Brière, who created at least a half-dozen scoring chances this night and saw some time on the first and second lines.
From there, Brière was able to hold off a defender and spot Weise all alone in the slot.
When the puck came to him, he wasn’t about to muff his chance.
“Well, I ripped it so hard I don’t know if I even saw it,” he deadpanned. “Nah, as soon as I got it my eyes got real big and I knew I wasn’t going to miss.”
It’s a truism that closely-fought series are often decided by marginal actors, and in this case the Habs’ fourth line proved to be the difference – indeed, the Lightning’s fourth unit also contributed a goal in the early going.
And for those looking for hints as to who will win a hockey game, look no further than the scoring column next to Montreal defenceman Mike Weaver’s name.
The journeyman rearguard, acquired the trade deadline from Florida, chalked up an assist in this one, and the Habs are now 6-1 when he notches a point.
Correlation doesn’t prove causation, and beyond the contributions of specific individuals, the Habs won this game because they made at least one less mistake than the Lightning, and their role players stepped to the fore.
Before the game, coach Michel Therrien said “I’m not a big fan of making hard changes” and trying to match lines, and that “you want to show confidence in the players who are on the ice to do the job.”
There were times when that seemed a little misguided – like when the Lightning’s Steven Stamkos started running wild in the second period – but according to Brière, it’s an effective strategy at this point.
“The playoffs are long, they’re a grind ... to win a Stanley Cup, you’re looking at two months of work, you need contributions from everybody and everyone has to get into the game,” he said. “In overtime, I think everybody felt good, no one was overly taxed, which was an advantage for us.”
Tampa coach Jon Cooper was plainly disappointed after the game, saying that his team has a lot more to give.
“They play well and with a lot of structure and stuff, but we shot ourselves in the foot,” Cooper said. “We had our chances to win this game, we just didn’t.”
Though the Lightning have been the better possession team this season, and routinely outshot the Habs in their face-to-face meetings, the visitors turned the tables.
“The issue with us is we were one-and-done all the time,” Cooper said of his team’s scoring chances, bemoaning the fact Montreal was more effective at maintaining offensive zone time.
That might be down to the Habs’ edge in experience, and Weise said the see-saw nature of this game didn’t bother the veteran Montreal squad (Tampa has eight playoff rookies).
“We’ve got such good leaders in here. ... I’ve been on some good teams, in Vancouver we won the President’s Trophy one year, and I think were second the next, but the leadership here is unbelievable, nobody gets fazed,” he said.
Anders Lindback faced 44 Montreal shots in the defeat, while Price was confronted with a modest 25.
Just like that, the Habs, who lost home ice advantage on the final game of the season, have seized it back by ensuring a split.
The teams got off to a wary start, but the Bolts were able to open the scoring after the first outburst of strangeness: a home-ice bounce just after the midway point of the period.
Rugged defenceman Radko Gudas stepped up into the slot to fire a wicked shot that zipped over Price’s outstretched glove, slammed into the glass and fell kindly for rookie Cedric Paquette, playing in just his third NHL game.
Earlier in the day, Paquette talked about growing up as a Habs fan in the Gaspe region of eastern Quebec, and how he had hoped Montreal would draft him in 2012 (he was snapped up by the Lightning in the fourth round).
“It’s a great opportunity for me to make them pay,” he told The Canadian Press.
So the 20-year-old did just that, firing a pass to J.T. Brown in the corner, whose feed to Nikita Kucherov in the low slot was steered past Price by the Russian rookie.
The home crowd’s euphoria was short-lived – chants of “U-S-A” were interrupted just 19 seconds later when the Habs used a long-bomb play to spring Tomas Plekanec, who got Gudas to bite on a fake, and then snapped a wrist shot high to the glove side that got past Lindback.
With 13:24 gone in the second, Tampa sniper Steven Stamkos bustled up the right side and gathered in a feed from teammate Mike Kostka, then made a mockery of Brandon Prust’s attempt to slow him down, treating it with approximately the contempt a Formula One car shows turn one.
Alexei Emelin came over to try and cover, but Stamkos had all the opening he needed – world-class player sent world-class wrist shot past world-class goaltender’s far side.
The Habs surely thought they’d tied the game a few seconds later – as they had done earlier in the game – but Tomas Plekanec’s shot clanked off Anders Lindback’s right-hand post.
Montreal captain Brian Gionta would tie the game on a short-handed breakaway set up by linemate Lars Eller’s clever pass off the boards; his initial shot at Lindback’s glove hand was catchable, but wasn't caught, and Gionta gathered his rebound and scored.
In the third, Eller staked Montreal to a 3-2 lead when his shot eluded Lindback’s glove – and Tampa replied within two minutes when Killorn (who grew up in Montreal’s western suburbs) gobbled up a Prust turnover and scored past a surprised Price.
Again Montreal grabbed the lead on a gorgeous David Desharnais feed that Thomas Vanek chipped home, and again Tampa replied when Killorn stormed past Mike Weaver to set up a two-on-one, faking a shot and passing to Stamkos, who netted his second of the game.
At least that part of this game followed the usual script.