MONTREAL — It wasn’t about what occurred within the fourth interval as a lot because it was what occurred within the third, with the Montreal Canadiens trailing by a aim and the prospect to lastly clinch the NHL’s final playoff berth hanging within the steadiness.
As a result of it doesn’t matter all that a lot that the world’s finest participant, Connor McDavid, took benefit of a turnover at three-on-three to win the sport in time beyond regulation for the Edmonton Oilers, and it issues quite a bit that the Canadiens discovered what they wanted to get them far sufficient into the sport to make McDavid’s aim much less consequential. In doing so, they’ve achieved the top they’ve been working in the direction of all through a daily season most everybody on their group has known as the largest grind of their careers.
Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme known as it a reduction.
“Yeah it’s. , what we’ve been by is one thing actually particular,” he mentioned. “We’re going to be taking part in our twenty fifth sport in (44 days on Wednesday) — it’s by no means been carried out earlier than. I do know it appears simple, and also you say, ‘Evening after night time, they’re going to return again they usually’re simply taking part in hockey, it’s not that difficult,’ however to win in that league, the margins between profitable and shedding is so skinny that you have to be mentally difficult your self to be on high each night time. And that’s one thing particular.
“Guys confirmed quite a bit. I do know it wasn’t good, it wasn’t nice to see each night time, however guys by no means gave up. The challenges we had in shedding guys — we might’ve been in huge bother, and we caught with it and at instances bought some huge wins… I feel we need to be the place we’re at and going into the playoffs and having an opportunity to compete for the Cup.”
There was one thing symbolic in how the Canadiens achieved it, in a sport they could have misplaced 4-3 however one they confirmed loads of character in. There was one thing becoming about their depth — their most vaunted high quality from December to now — shining by when it mattered most.
The Canadiens would have been overwhelmed soundly in if not for the three gamers who began the season’s first sport because the fourth line. On this night time, within the absence of two-thirds of the highest line, Jake Evans, Artturi Lehkonen and Paul Byron went up in opposition to McDavid, Dominik Kahun and Jesse Puljujarvi and fully dominated them.
We will’t consider three gamers on the Canadiens who’ve battled extra adversity this season than Evans, Lehkonen and Byron, however they’ve overcome it and confirmed one thing within the course of.
Byron, making $3.4 million and struggling to offer the secondary offence out of the gate to justify it, was a cap casualty on three events; an assistant captain waived to clear area. He by no means complained, by no means missed a minute of his personal volition after taking a Shea Weber slap shot to the foot earlier within the season and he returned from a nine-game absence resulting from a lower-body harm to publish a aim, an help, 4 shot makes an attempt and 4 hits in 14:58 of Monday’s sport.
“He’s an enormous a part of this group,” mentioned Lehkonen. “He’s a fantastic hockey participant. He makes use of his pace rather well, he battles onerous on a regular basis, he’s at all times going 100 per cent. It makes him a very easy participant to play with.”
The 25-year-old Finn with a monitor document of elevating his sport for the large ones could as properly have been speaking about himself.
Lehkonen was practically traded to unencumber cap area previous to the commerce deadline. He was scratched from eight video games this season, made to really feel like his function was in jeopardy, and but there he was on Monday scoring the game-tying aim lower than 10 minutes after having one taken away from him resulting from a coach’s problem for offside. He additionally assisted on the primary two targets his group scored.
The acquisition of Eric Staal on the deadline pushed Evans to the margins regardless of his sturdy play, and the cap scenario stored him out of the lineup for six video games in April.
However the 24-year-old rookie cemented his place on the coronary heart of it with a career-high three factors in opposition to Edmonton.
“In case you look, we took the choice that it will be Jake, Lehky and Paul taking part in McDavid,” mentioned Ducharme. “So, it already reveals what we see in him and in them.”
We see pace and tenacity in three gamers who play the correct means and assist groups get to and thru the playoffs. We see three gamers who, with their play on Monday, epitomized the 2021 Canadiens — not essentially in how efficient they had been, however extra so of their will to not be defeated by the circumstances.
“We simply knew we simply needed to hold pushing as a group,” mentioned Byron. “Preserve pushing, and hold pushing, and hold pushing…”
The large shove comes subsequent — first on Wednesday, with the Canadiens probably nonetheless having a chance to move the Jets for third place within the North Division, after which, extra importantly, into the post-season for the primary time (on their very own advantage) in 4 years.
There will probably be issues to type out and time to do it. Injured gamers Phillip Danault, Brendan Gallagher, Shea Weber and Carey Price are anticipated to return previous to subsequent Wednesday — it’s topic to alter, however that’s the anticipated begin date for the Canadian groups collaborating within the playoffs — and meaning some onerous choices coming each at ahead and on defence.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi is in a contest with Staal. If handing the McDavid project to Evans was telling, so was short-shifting Kotkaniemi and taking part in him 5:01 lower than Staal.
Staal had a powerful night time, except one shift the place Kahun ended up scoring off a McDavid feed to make it 3-2 Oilers within the second interval, however he’s struggled simply as a lot as Kotkaniemi has during the last 20-odd video games.
Jon Merrill and Alexander Romanov, who performed (miserably) as a defence pair and price the Canadiens two targets within the first interval, are battling with one another as properly. We’d give the sting to the Russian rookie, however we will’t outright declare he’s received the function simply but.
Has Cole Caufield carried out sufficient to carve out a task for himself? May an enormous efficiency on Wednesday earn him one?
We’ll see the way it all shakes out.
If Ducharme has as a lot time to guage all of it, it’s as a result of the Canadiens performed Monday’s third interval like their season relied on it. And what occurred in time beyond regulation afterwards was of little consequence.