So the playoff-bound Montreal Canadiens close out the regular season calendar with a victory.
And not just a garden variety, snoozer of a win, but a history-making one.
If the team’s official guidebook is to be believed, never in the team's century-long annals have they won a game in overtime on a penalty shot.
Thanks to former Hab Raphael Diaz’ desperation hook on Brian Gionta as he pounced on a loose puck just inside his own blue line and set sail for the New York Rangers’ end, the Habs' captain was able to add an exclamation mark to the regular season finale, complete with a made-for-tv ending.
“Once we secured the point we wanted to push for it, we had the chance to get an extra point and we were able to do that,” said Gionta, who made a nice forehand-backhand move to slip the only goal of the game past the Rangers’ Cam Talbot.
From there, the players streamed onto the ice to mob their captain on the far boards, then honoured the fans; a few fortunate Bell Centre denizens got to see a Hab skate over to give them his game-worn jersey (actually, given the exertions required in this or any other NHL game, maybe they weren’t so lucky).
The postseason has been a foregone conclusion for a little while now, but there was a sense in the Habs’ room that they needed to get the engine running smoothly in the closing stages of the regular season – which they finally did in the later stages of this game.
The two points from Saturday mean the Tampa Bay Lightning must win their final game in Washington on Sunday to secure home ice advantage for the first round, otherwise the series begins at the Bell Centre on Wednesday.
“The last few games going into the playoffs are all about the preparation for that first game,” said Carey Price, who chalked up his 34 win of the season and sixth shutout.
He also ends the year with a career-high .927 save percentage (and an incredible .934 at even-strength, second only to Boston’s Tuukka Rask among goalies with more than 35 starts)
This game also featured several attempts by Habs players to tee up winger Max Pacioretty for his 40th goal - the American played 20:19 - and on several occasions that meant passing up gilt-edged opportunities (as Vanek did in the first period).
Coach Michel Therrien chalked it up to "just human nature" and suggested that now that the milestone is unattainable, fans will see "more aggressiveness to the net" from Pacioretty, Vanek and David Desharnais.
This won’t sound right to fans who live and die with every result, but the Canadiens were surprisingly consistent this season – they accrued 50 points in their first 41 games, and 50 points in their second 41, and a 100-point season is nothing to sneeze at.
That masks the fact that they have gone through long swaths where they didn’t look very good, and in some aspects of their game they still don’t.
Montreal has now gone eight straight games without a power-play goal – 0-for-23 – which is the longest drought in a decade.
And while their five-on-five scoring has nudged up since the acquisition of Thomas Vanek at the trade deadline, they have scored fewer goals than any other Eastern Conference playoff team.
But they’ve given up the third-least, with their goalie leading the way.
This was a night for the goalies; Price stopped all 41 shots he faced – and was helped by his posts on a couple of occasions, none more panic-inducing than a heavy Diaz slapper in the second period that pinged off both posts and came sailing out the other side.
Talbot turned away 26 Montreal shots, and in truth, the first period was on par with the uninspired effort the Habs turned in against the New York Islanders on Thursday.
“Obviously we wanted to win regardless of home ice or what-not, but it’s definitely rewarding to end the season in that fashion,” Price said.
The best of the 26-year-old’s saves was a sparkling glove stop to deny Derick Brassard in the first period, the New York forward was all by his lonesome in the slot but couldn’t beat Price.
As the Habs rest up for the postseason, their most important player says he’s in top form, and if anything is anxious to get started.
“I feel pretty good right now, missing those eight games (with a knee problem) may have been a blessing in disguise. Taking some time off to recuperate after what felt like a season and then a mini-playoffs, was definitely, I think, beneficial,” Price said.Report Typo/Error