Thursday April 5 10:30 PM
I forgot to add something to my mini-guide to a good time in New York City. While there are any number of terrific spots for an omelette, not just the Empire Diner; where does one go to see the actual process of laying an egg? Back up to the Catskills? Across the Hudson River to New Jersey? Staten Island? Nah, just head to 33rd & 7th Avenue, whenever the Montreal Canadiens are in town.
Rotten eggs don't smell as bad as The Habs' performance at Madison Square Garden tonight. For the umpteenth time this season the Canadiens began a game as if they were protecting a four goal lead. No forecheck, no body slams, no speed, no passion. Jaroslav Halak did his part to keep them in the game, far longer than they should have been. This was the same kind of mis-match that had resulted in a 7-2 Rangers victory over the Maple Leafs last sunday night. Which might say a lot more about Halak vs Andrew Raycroft than anything else at this point. Which is one reason I stay with the kid saturday night.
There were a lot of villians with white sweaters tonight. But Halak was not among them. Perhaps if Cristobal Huet had stood on his head and faced a barrage of shots you'd think more seriously of starting him in Toronto but the Rangers had a total of eight shots on goal and really tested him just once, a good shot but from well out by Sean Avery. I didn't like what I saw from Huet before he got hurt. I like a lot of what I've seen from Halak, even with the poor road record.
As for the real villians? As an Alex Kovalev fan let me state the obvious. I thought he'd be a big factor tonight, maybe even the difference. Instead it looked like Alex was thinking about his next flight log. Seems to me he lost interest after Michael Ryder failed to get him the puck, when that was clearly the play, after Kovalev had established position in front of Henrik Lundqvist, only to watch Ryder hang onto the puck (turning into Richard Zednick before our eyes, huh?), circle the net, but once again fail to get a shot while losing possession and watching the puck slide towards his own net.
Saku Koivu created plays. Chris Higgins worked hard but again with no result. Thomas Plekanic and Andrei Kostitsyn, so strong down the stretch, were barely visible. Guillaume Latendresse might soon find himself on a milk carton. Francis Bouillion handed the Rangers their second goal. And you can't be caught in a Boullion-Jagr match up, which the Habs were, twice. Credit to Tom Renney.
So here we go. Canadiens-Leafs on a Saturday night in Toronto. The most playoff-like non-playoff game since, well, what St. Patrick's Day night here in Montreal? Last March when the Habs swept the Leafs in back to back games and Darcy Tucker was forced to eat Kovalev's forearm? Or do we have to go all the way back to the last legit playoff match up in April 1979 when the Canadiens defeated Toronto en route to their fourth straight Stanley Cup.
Koivu always plays well against Toronto. I don't worry about him. Kovalev has to bounce back. If not, he's bounced himself right out of town. Higgins is overdue. The kids (Plekanic, Kostitsyn, Lapierre) will once again be a factor. Mike Johnson is going home. Latendresse must wake up, especially against a bigger, more physical team. Carbonneau has to play match ups, as difficult as that is on the road. Keep Bouillion away from the Sundin line.
Even though the Leafs are still the more desperate of the teams, the Habs have to play just as desperate. Not wait around to see how Toronto starts. I think Montreal will be fine. They've laid their egg. Only thing worse is to follow up by playing like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off. Hopefully Ryder will be the only Hab to go that route.
There is another possibility of course. And it might be the most just at this stage. Leafs beat the Habs in regulation. Toronto reacts as if they've won the Cup. The Islanders follow up tonight by winning their final two games against Philadelphia and an -already- clinched New Jersey Devils. They get in. Leafs and Habs wind up together afterall. On the outside looking in.
Favorite Leafs from 1979 Montreal-Toronto playoff series:
1. Dan Maloney
2. Mike Palmateer
3. Tiger Williams
4. Lanny McDonald
5. Darryl Sittler