Still Talkin’ Habs: Is there more magic to come?
The image of Josh Anderson sprawled out on his back, his fists raised in victorious celebration has the chance to become iconic.
Not because he had just earned the Montreal Canadiens their first Stanley Cup Final win in 28 years...
Not because he provided Habs fans with yet another magical playoff moment in a miraculous run...
It’s because of what he did right after he came to a halt outside the top of the left-hand circle, surrounded by 3,500 strong, going absolutely bonkers.
He got up.
The Canadiens got the bounces they wanted and may have even gotten off the mat in their series with the Tampa Bay Lightning after Monday night’s 3-2 overtime win in Game 4 to avoid elimination and send the series back to Florida for Game 5.
Just like the mayor of Tampa Bay wanted.
Monday night’s result was the first, small step towards a historically difficult task.
After all, the Habs are trying to accomplish something that has only been done once in the more than 100-year history of the sport: try and come back from 0-3 down with Lord Stanley’s mug on the line.
The Canadiens task is still stalled at the intersection of unlikely and impossible.
But they did the only thing they could do in Game 4 Monday night.
They found some confidence. And they have their head coach to thank for helping them do so.
Like many of you, I was more than a tad surprised to hear the news early on Monday that Jesperi Kotkaniemi would be scratched, the day before his 21st birthday, for Jake Evans.
It just seemed counter-intuitive to remove one of your better goal scorers from the lineup in favour of a less offensively inclined player when you cannot generate enough offence on the Lightning.
But in the end, Dominique Ducharme was vindicated by the knock-on effect of altering his lineup to fit Evans in.
A struggling Tyler Toffoli was moved away from Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, replaced with Anderson. The rest is history.
The power forward’s goal-scoring has been erratic, to say the least, this post-season.
In fact, it was only the third game these playoffs he scored a goal, just the fourth time he’s picked up a point.
But he’s rarely been a non-factor, always willing to make himself a physical presence.
He was rewarded for his effort throughout, with the two biggest goals of his career to date -- and the timing could not have been better.
Much had justifiably been said about the Habs' inability to score the first goal so far against Tampa Bay and you could see why Monday night.
The Lightning absolutely dominated the Canadiens the opening twelve minutes of the game.
The brooms were out. The sweep was on.
When Anderson scored to give the home team the lead, it was as though a calm washed over the Habs like we hadn’t seen so far in this series. That measured tone carried over into the second and held even after both of their regulation leads were cancelled out.
It comes as no surprise, but the Canadiens are psychologically just a very different team when they jump out to a lead.
Ducharme also surprised many by finally ditching Jon Merrill and Erik Gustafsson on the blueline in favour of rookie Alexander Romanov and Brett Kulak.
Both hadn’t played since June 14, but shook off the rust well and were key parts in both of the Habs' regulation goals.
Kulak’s speed allowed him to break the puck out of his zone by himself in the build-up to Anderson’s first.
The Tsar, who looked relatively comfortable in such a pressure-packed moment, looked about as surprised as anyone to see his shot from the point fly past Andrei Vasilevskiy’s blocker and into the net.
Did the Canadiens need some luck? Like they have at multiple points during this run, of course they did.
Three posts by Tampa Bay’s shooters was a welcome sight. But they deserved the bounces they got Monday night with their play this series and the playoffs as a whole.
It would have been incredibly harsh on the team and the fans to have this historic run end in a four-game sweep.
Now, at the very least, they have something to show for their effort in the Cup final.
Is there a chance for a historic comeback starting on Wednesday night?
Based on the percentages, likely not.
But the Habs did what they needed to do by shifting all of the pressure onto Tampa Bay for Game 5 and gained some confidence by scoring three times on the Lightning for the second consecutive game.
At the very least, they gave their fans one more moment of magic on Bell Center ice.
So, you’re saying there’s a chance? Maybe. Just maybe.
Carey Price – 8/10
Was the only Canadiens player to start the game on time. Without him, the series would have been over within the first 20 minutes. His puck-moving at the start was a bit iffy, but settled down after that. Nothing for the highlight reel, but made all the saves he needed to, with minimal fuss. Most important member of the penalty kill. Could not have been bothered by Anderson’s game-winner.
Shea Weber – 8/10
Featured prominently in Brayden Point’s nightmares Monday night. It appeared as though his goal was to obliterate the Lightning centreman into the boards as often as possible. Did lead the back-end with three giveaways, but all things considered, his passing was much better after the first. Strong stick on the penalty kill. His best offensive chances rattled wide. Played with some real snarl and it suited him. Surprisingly not bad on the second unit of the powerplay. Would have been devastated for him if Tampa had scored on his double-minor in overtime. Led the team in blocked shots with five.
Ben Chiarot – 8/10
Penalty kill time totalling 7:55 against the best powerplay in the league is no easy task. Through a combination of whacks, hits, blocks and clears he managed to get the job done. Massive down a man in the early moments of overtime. Got into some extracurriculars in the third that nearly proved costly. Took the physicality of his partner to another level, finishing the evening with a whopping nine hits to lead the team. Very sure when getting the puck out of his zone. Low-risk passing.
Jeff Petry – 6/10
One of his tougher nights with the puck on his stick. His attempted pass to Anderson that was picked off by McDonaugh just inside the line was the avoidable mistake that led to the equalizing goal by Goodrow. He was definitely the team’s most erratic defenceman in the first period. Turnovers weren’t the problem the rest of the way, but rather the accuracy of his passing. Didn’t cope with the Tampa forecheck particularly well. Could have been much better.
Joel Edmundson – 7/10
No nonsense from him Monday night. Almost got caught up in the nonsense after the whistle a few times. Slashing someone in the shoulder in front of the ref isn’t the best idea. But as Weber did on his pairing, he set the physical tone and competitive edge when he was out there. Led the Canadiens in ice-time. His passing has been better, but did well enough to get the job done. Monster on the penalty kill.
Alexander Romanov – 7/10
You couldn’t help but smile looking at his equally shocked face that he had just scored in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. Walked the line well to get his shot through there. Didn’t need to throw too many bone-jarring hits. Preferred just killing the cycle play down low. His one-touch passing was excellent as he always found the supporting forward to exit the zone. Needed to do a better job playing the 2-on-1 on Maroon’s equalizer.
Brett Kulak – 7/10
Boy, with the way he started the game, it was hard not to think there’s a mistake coming. A player who looked destined to have a hard night somehow turned it around. Surely gained confidence after his self-breakout to relieve pressure started the zone time that led to Anderson’s opener. Gained some confidence after that. Found his skating and passing game in the second period and didn’t look back. Shouldn’t have gotten sucked in at the blueline just before Maroon’s goal, but it was the big forward's interference on him that prevented him from getting back. Kept it simple.
Phillip Danault – 7/10
Didn’t stand out in any noticeable way, at even strength. Brought the puck into the Tampa zone a few times, but couldn’t generate much of anything offensively with his linemates. His positioning on the penalty kill was spectacular, however. Always had to think of one pass ahead by the Lightning and his stick was there to disrupt the chance when he needed to. Point, Kucherov and Palat all held off the scoresheet? That’s a win for him.
Tyler Toffoli – 6/10
Wasn’t expecting much from a guy who is clearly struggling at the moment being put with less offensive players. What you got was a pretty anonymous showing from him. Even strength, powerplay, whatever. The puck just wouldn’t stick for him at all. Bad play at the blueline by not getting it deep, which led to the turnover for Maroon’s tying goal. Another off night from a guy who has had a few too many recently.
Brendan Gallagher – 6/10
Surprisingly threatened the most when he was on that strange second wave of the powerplay that inexplicably worked Monday night. But like his linemates, very little at even strength. His passing and puck handling were better than we’ve seen from him at times these playoffs. But his memorable moment was shoving Hedman before heading off the ice for the intermission. Wasn’t his usual combative self in front of goal and finished the evening with no shots on goal and one hit.
Nick Suzuki – 8/10
Those mitts were magically silky on that backhand saucer pass to Anderson for his first to settle everyone down in the building. Had some really creative moments, with one particular cut inside and spin-o-rama on Sergachev in the third standing out. Was really the only offensive force from a playmaking perspective. Fifty per cent on faceoffs is a good night for him. Got beat to the front of the net by Goodrow for his goal, but the real problem was the poor pass by Petry at the blueline that started it all. Continues to make Habs fans giddy about the future.
Josh Anderson – 9/10
The hero. His first goal was a combination of a disorganized change by the Lightning and a terrific pass by Suzuki to find him alone driving the net. Had one or two more moments where he took the puck to the net hard, but couldn’t apply the finishing touch. Combative all over the ice, but didn’t throw his weight around as much, only registering two hits (one of which was a big one on Hedman). The game-winner was all him though. Created the turnover in his own end, pushed the puck to the front of the net after running out of the racetrack. Then beat Ruuta off the boards back to the front of the net for the game-winner. Maximum effort.
Cole Caufield – 7/10
Call it the Drouin effect. He got lost in the shuffle often and the puck just would not fall or settle for him at any particular moment. But ended the game with two assists for his troubles. So, what do I know? His drive to the net was the perfect decoy on Anderson’s first and won a battle in front to keep the puck alive on his game-winner. Best chance of his was a rush chance down the left in the third that he fired through the defender’s legs but was snared by Vasilevskiy’s glove.
Jake Evans – 7/10
On one hand, was expecting more energy and physicality from him to start the game. Got in Point’s grill for off-setting minors where he quite literally did nothing but take some punches to the head. Settled in after that. In the second, he was great on the forecheck and carried that over into the third, picking off Vasilevskiy’s pass along the boards and moving it back to Romanov for the Russian’s goal. Like pretty much everyone on the penalty kill, was excellent and disruptive.
Artturi Lehkonen – 7/10
PK superstar, just like all three members of his line. Ended up providing the screen in front for Romanov’s goal in the third. Didn’t stand out as much on the forecheck, which is usually his bread and butter. But harassed and harried the Lightning on the backcheck and was always in the right spot defensively.
Paul Byron – 7/10
See Lehkonen, Artturi or Evans, Jake plus the forward lead in hits with three.
Eric Staal – 6/10
He had some spurts here and there controlling the puck below the goal line. But was the least impactful member of his line. There were times where his lack of foot speed was exploited as the Lightning skated around him either in the neutral or offensive zones. Surprisingly looked good on the second unit of the powerplay that looked doomed for failure. But all-in-all, he was just OK.
Joel Armia – 6/10
Surprisingly the least used Habs forward Monday night and didn’t get any penalty kill time. Like Staal, had some moments where he bullied guys off the puck in the offensive zone, but in the end, nothing really came of it. Probably had the best powerplay chance on the night with a clean look from the left circle but was stopped by Vasilevskiy. He can’t be unstoppable every night.
Corey Perry – 7/10
Certainly his most impactful game of this series to date. Started it off by following up Anderson’s opener by going right in hard on Vasilevskiy, pushing him back into his net and earning a punch to the face courtesy of the big Russian for his efforts. Made a few of those moves in tight and around the net that nearly set up a teammate for a chance. Most memorably, a spinning backhand pass to Armia that he couldn’t get a hold of. Tied for the lead in shots on goal by forwards with three.
Dominique Ducharme – 8/10
To be clear, there will never be a point where I support taking Jesperi Kotkaniemi out of the lineup. But in the end, every change he made worked out to his advantage on the scoreboard. Anderson scoring two goals with his new linemates. Romanov with a goal and Evans with the assist. For one night, everything came up Dom.