mercredi 23 avril 2014

Habs sweep away Bolts, advance to second round

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A festival was being held outside in the rain, the only one of its kind in Canada, and only as it could be held in Montreal. Fans were squeezed shoulder-to-shoulder and beer-to-beer, 90 minutes before the first puck dropped on Tuesday, some tempting the fickle hockey gods by waving their brooms in a distinct sweeping motion along the street.

It continued inside the Bell Centre, where Ginette Reno burnished a growing legend with her second straight command performance of O Canada. She shook Daniel Brière’s hand as she left the ice, and
 Brière, naturally, scored his first goal of the playoffs minutes later.

The Tampa Bay Lightning were there, too, but only as invited guests, extras in the crowd of red. And like a reasonable party guest, the Lightning left at the end of the night, at the end of a 4-3 loss.

Montreal is the only Canadian team in the playoffs this spring and it is the first team to book passage to the second round. The Canadiens now have the luxury of watching the Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings beat on each other before facing the survivor in the next round.

“In my wildest dreams, I was not expecting to win this series in four,” Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. “But I was confident as a coach … that we were going to win that series.”
Goaltending was a pillar upon which that confidence rested. Tampa Bay’s regular starter resumed skating on Tuesday morning with the hope of returning from an elbow injury in time for Game 5. But the only problem for Ben Bishop was also the most obvious: Game 4.

Anders Lindback was pulled in the second period after allowing a second goal from just inside the faceoff circle. Kristers Gudlevskis, the team’s third-string goaltender, went in facing a two-goal deficit and an overwhelmed defence.

The Canadiens were out-shooting the Lightning 6-3 nine minutes into the first period and just kept sprinting. Montreal was up 12-3 when Lars Eller scored to build a 2-0 lead, and was up 29-13 heading into the third period. The noise grew, as if to form another barrier.

There were flickers of resistance. Lightning captain Steven Stamkos was true to his word and returned after suffering an apparent concussion in Game 3 — “I tried to shake it off,” he told the Tampa Bay Times — and sparked a brief uprising in the second period.

He shoved Canadiens defenceman Alexei Emelin in the chest, then delivered a right cross to his chin. This was notable for two reasons. First, it was Emelin’s knee that hit Stamkos in the back of the head in Game 3. And second, Stamkos somehow went off for hooking, without any further mention of the punch.

Ondrej Palat scored to cut Montreal’s lead, only to have Brendan Gallagher score the goal to chase Lindback from the net. All the Canadiens had to do was kill off the third period, and they were through.

It seemed all but assured. Stamkos snapped his stick on a clear attempt in the slot down 3-1 in the second period, shaking his head as he skated back to the bench. The party was set to carry into the late evening hours in the streets of downtown Montreal.

Except the Lightning struck twice in the first 10 minutes of the third. First, it was Victor Hedman, the big defenceman, banking a shot off Canadiens goaltender Carey Price from an awkward spot behind the net.

Three minutes later, Tyler Johnson scored to tie the game and reduce the wall of noise to isolated bursts of frustration.

“I said that, if we were going to go down, we were going to go down swinging,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “And I thought we went down swinging. I think there were 21,000 people who were a little nervous in that third period.”

The roar returned with 42.6 seconds left, as loud as it had been all night. Max Pacioretty banged a rebound into the net, with the power-play goal standing as the winner.

“It’s the first step along the way,” Canadiens forward Brian Gionta said. “We’ve got to regroup now and wait for our next opponent.”

And for the 21,273 who had filled the red seats from ice level to the rafters, it meant that the party that began in the rain was not going to be called off by a little bit of lightning.