For two and a half periods last night in San Jose Carey Price looked like Jacques Plante, Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy all rolled into one. Except for a fluke short-handed goal at the beginning of the second period, a deflection by Patrick Marleau, he baffled the San Jose Sharks shooters with a lightning quick glove and acrobatic moves.
The entire Canadien team played like Stanley Cup champions. The Gomez/Gionta combination was electric. With Gomez sweeping up the ice, head up, stick
wagging in that unique way he has and finishing with on-the-tape passes, they dominated play every shift they were on the ice. Halfway through the first Gionta tipped in a Gomez pass from the sideboards beating Evgeni Nabakov cleanly to put the Habs up by one. With Andrei Markov back in his office on the blue line, the defense looked impenetrable. The Sharks pressed hard for the equalizer before the period ended but Price stood tall, stopping fifteen shots.
In a wild second period, one of those periods in a hockey game where anything and everything that can happen does, Price was golden. Marleau’s goal in the first minute tied the game at one but not for long. Two minutes later a Gomez pass, again to Gionta in the Sharks’ crease, was deflected by defenseman Doug Murray into his own net.
Then all hell broke loose. San Jose went into the big-body intimidation mode on the Canadiens but to no avail. Rob Blake and Thomas Plekanec wrestled behind the net taking coincidental minors. At the twelve-minute mark Benoit Pouliot and Scott Nichol got into a slashing duel, each drawing two minutes in the box. A minute later Plekanec took an unusual clipping penalty giving the Sharks a four-on-three advantage. With the Thorton-Heatley-Marleau line on the ice plus Dan Boyle the Sharks lived up to their name, hungrily circling the waters. But Carey Price was in the cage. Heatley wound up from inside the faceoff circle and the glove flashed out to make the save. Bodies of Canadien defensemen were thrown with abandon to stop shot after shot from the points. Price lost his stick and after Hal Gill retrieved it in front of the net. Not having time to get it to Price and, in the face of another oncoming attacker, Gill threw it back on the ice but in the shooting lane, which drew a penalty shot for the Sharks. Dan Boyle was chosen by Coach Todd McLellan to take the shot, a curious decision given his top three scorers were on the ice. Boyle hit the crossbar. Seconds later off a faceoff Heatley hit the post. The Sharks had outshot the Canadiens 11-1 at this point in the period. The Habs weathered the storm, Price made fourteen saves and they ended the second period with a 2-1 lead.
The third period was all Sharks. They came out blazing. Like the great team they are they found that extra gear needed to pull the game out of the fire. The Canadiens didn’t. They were outworked, outhit, outskated and spent most of the period in their own end. Scott Nichol had an early breakaway and hit the cross bar before being smacked into the boards by Maxime Lapierre. That play seemed to be the needed spark for the Sharks rally. With Roman Hamrlik in the penalty box for a hooking infraction, Boyle’s hard shot from the sideboards hit Dany Heatley and trickled through Price’s pads. Two minutes later Manny Malhotra was left alone in the slot by the newly acquired Dominic Moore and he one-timed the winning goal without a hand laid on him. Andrei Kostitsyn almost pulled the game even with a last minute high riser that Nabokov snatched to preserve the lead.
Canadiens fell to a tenth place tie in the East with Atlanta and the Rangers. They will have to find a full sixty minutes in their game to make the playoffs. Periods like last night’s third will not be enough.