Saturday, March 31, 2007

3-31-07: Canadiens 4, Sabres 3

If there is in fact a Canadiens-Sabres playoff series, it will probably kill me.

It will be the night of the final game, the Habs having alternated thin, scraping wins with catastrophic losses for the previous six, and during the 3rd period Montreal will give up 2 goals in 1 minute, 26 seconds, giving the Sabres a 5-4 lead, and there will be a great crashing and banging heard throughout my building. The irritable lady who lives below me, finally fed up- she’s told me before not to make so much noise on game nights, she has to go to bed early- will call the police to complain. They’ll have to break down the door when they get no response, and they’ll find me, lying on the floor amidst a heap of splintered furniture in a torn jersey, pupils dilated, lower lip bitten through, knuckles bloody from punching at the cement walls, and very much dead. The medical examiner will immediately be able to ascertain the cause: hockey-induced aneurysm. J will be brought in to identify me, and the cop will sympathetically ask him, “Was she prone to fits of hockey-rage?” And J will nod slowly, his eyes tearing up, and say, “Yes, officer, she was hockey manic-depressive, ever since October.” And the policeman will shake his head regretfully and pat him on the back, saying, “Yes, we see it all too often this time of year. Some people just can’t handle the playoffs.”

1. These games are just too exciting, and I mean exciting in the sense of ‘elevates your heart rate’, not ‘makes you happy’. They’re too fast, too close, the momentum shifts back and forth every other minute. The Habs do play the Sabres well, but they never win easily or surely. Something about Buffalo seems to bring out the crazy in them; more nifty goals, more ridiculous mistakes. It’s usually a tough night for the Canadiens’ goalie when the Sabres are around.

2. Following that point, although the Habs didn’t allow nearly as many shots as they used to, they were outshot in the traditional fashion tonight and Halak handled it pretty well. It really is striking how contemplative the boy is. I thought Huet was calm, but Halak is otherworldly, sometimes spooky. He just gives off this bizarre sense of stillness; even when he’s moving, it’s like he’s not really moving. He does nothing, but nothing remains undone- the essence of the Tao. I don’t know, maybe that’s a flaw in his style (some of what got past him tonight was pretty cringe-worthy), sort of the polar opposite of Aebi’s overzealousness, but it’s nevertheless soothing to watch. If they ever make a Jaroslav Halak highlight reel, I can see it being shown mostly in yoga classes and New-Age meditation retreats. Anyhow, Conklin faced fewer shots and let more in (note to other teams: go five-hole, it works). Interesting to see that the Sabres goaltending situation doesn’t look much better than ours.

3. With the trading of Rivet, the demotion of Downey, the apparently permanent benching of Murray and Samsonov, and the long-term injury to Huet, the Habs have gone from icing an older-skewing team to a younger-skewing one over the course of the year, and I’m beginning to appreciate the difference. The frustrating thing, obviously, is that none of our darari are Pittsburgh-caliber phenoms who play a half-decade above their age. A lot of times they’re still blaringly, shockingly immature, not very consistent and not always very responsible. But who cares? The Habs haven’t been as fun to watch all year as they are now. Even when they’re not connecting, the new 2nd line generates so much forward momentum that they can have the other team scrambling around their own net for the entire shift, and Lapierre and Latendresse seem to have decided that they’ll drag Kovalev around with them whether he wants to come along or not. People may say he’s just decided to show up now because that’s what he does, and that’s probably true, but I think part of that line’s current success is because Lapierre doesn’t defer to him the way the rest of the team tends to, and that’s good, because for all his seniority, I don’t really think that Kovalev is the sort of guy who should be allowed to control the play just because he’s on the ice. Better to have him with linemates who are comfortable ignoring him when he goes into daydream mode. (Question: If the rest of us daydream about being professional hockey players, what on earth does Kovalev daydream about? Photocopying? Burger-flipping? Does he have a deep-down hidden yen to install cable or work a cash register all day long?)

4. Speaking of kids, Ryder celebrates his 27th birthday with his 27th goal of the season. Now, officially, no one is permitted to refer to him as one of the team’s ‘youth’ anymore. 27 = adult, even by hockey player standards.

5. A few other comments: Souray has been ratcheting up the defensive responsibility the last few games, must really be trying to market himself for the huge UFA money. How I wish we could keep him. Uneven game for Komisarek, guy gets visibly jittery sometimes when things speed up, and isn’t as harmonious with Niinimaa as he is with Markov. Bonk played with some unusual offensive edge, as reflected on the scoresheet. And Koivu gets his 20th, and probably prettiest, goal of the season, catching the puck right off the bench and tossing it past Conklin as if the poor guy wasn’t even there. After their crap performance last night, the 1st line saw significantly reduced ice time tonight, but here’s hoping the wrath of Carbo doesn’t last- while ­Koivu has been a distinctly mixed blessing in 2007, covering the full range from great to horrific, the man is on a point streak and has a significant chance of topping his previous best year.

As always, a final look at the competition: Islanders lose, Leafs win, Lighting win, Rangers win. So nothing changes in terms of the standings, but things do begin to look a trifle clearer: the Isles and the Canes have pretty much lost control of their fate- even if they win their remaining games, they’re going to have to hope and pray that not just one but a few of the teams above them collapse significantly, which no one looks likely to do. The Lightning and the Rangers are also unlikely to fall out of playoff slots completely, although Tampa’s goaltending being what it is I suppose that’s not impossible. So that leaves the Habs and the Leafs, who, coincidentally, play their mutual last game of the season one week from tonight. I think it’s time we begin to entertain the possibility that Gainey hired a team of writers to pre-script this entire season for maximum dramatic impact. I might have that aneurysm before the playoffs even start.


Jordi said...

Soes I wake up a little late and I find out that the game started a lot earlier than I thought. A win's a win. Hallelujah! Too bad the Leafs scraped something up on their end too.

alice said...

What does Kovalev daydream about, when he gets into one of those states on the ice? If, as most Ranger fans fear, it's flying, you have to really worry about whether he daydreams about hockey when he's behind the controls of his Cessna (or whatever he flies) at 10,000 ft in crosswinds.

Aside from that, you did a great job capturing the essence of a playoff push from a fan's point of view. I'd add one thing. That is, a playoff push not only increases the agita-producing prospects of any individual game your team plays; it increases the agita involved in scoreboard watching, as up to six other games can impact your team's chances. In October, I don't care who wins a Tampa Bay-Atlanta game; if I watch it on Versus, I just root for overtime (more hockey!). But in March (and now in April), it matters that the Bolts lose, preferably in regulation.

Olivier said...

I just realized we beat the Sabres *at even strenght*!

And how bout that Ryder dude, eh?

He broke with the 27 spookiness by having a +1 on the night, getting back at -26 and scored his 25th even strenght point. That 3 more than Samsonov.

But don't listen to me; I'm just a very bad person...