A team like this needs nights like that. Three never-say-die comebacks in front of a raucously hostile Habs crowd of 21,273, and Mikko Koskinen's impressive rebound from a rough NHL debut, making 37 saves -- and a clean sheet in the shootout -- for his first NHL win. Normally I downplay the "win" factor in shootouts, the NHL's crowd-pleasing coin flip to determine a whole standings point, but young Koskinen made enough saves at 5-on-5 and 1-on-1 to fully deserve that career milestone without asterisk.
I was in my car for the end of the third, OT and the shootout, and let me tell you: You haven't heard good radio until you've heard the Habs' English radio feed lambasting their team as they blow leads and lose to "the lowly" Islanders. Good, funny stuff. They invited irate post-game callers afterward, but my XM feed cut off before I got to hear the angst.
Game Notes Lacking Any Sense of Asterisk
About the Habs radio: My favorite part was them crucifying Jacques Martin for continuing to go with the "ice cold" line of Scott Gomez, Andrei Kostitsyn and Lars Eller. "Again here they are" in the game's late, tied moments. Can they redeem themselves, the Habs announcers wondered. They even criticized each player's shot selection as if this game is easy.
- Strangest bit of the night: The Islanders' Shootout Automatic twins, Nielsen and Rob Schremp (and even add P.A. Parenteau as Shep), each came up empty in the breakaway drill. So who wins it with the only tally of 8 combined attempts? Okposo, who was a career 1 for 10 before tonight. Sizzling shot for the man again wearing the "A."
- That first period was just an ugly, disjointed penalty fest.
- Any goalie can look good or bad on any given night. Mikko looked full of holes the other night in emergency relief against the Maple Leafs. Tonight, he looked much closer to the towering, square goalie we occasionally hear about. There is no snap judgment here -- and of course we're still talking about three goals conceded and a goalie who never actually had the lead in his first NHL win -- but it is a lesson in patience. Everyone has good and bad days at work, too. Tonight was a good rebound for Mikko.
- It was both cool and scary to see Koskinen say this: "I had a lot of fun, it was awesome. I would like to play every night in front of this kind of crowd. So much fun." We know, Mikko, we know. The Habs even announce their shootout-takers with such fanfare (yuck) as if they've already scored. Keep pluggin', and maybe one day the Coliseum rocks again, or its replacement rocks in between deliveries of in-game wine and cheese.
- 100 Point Club: As JPinVA has been tracking all season, Nielsen now joins the club with Kyle Okposo and Blake Comeau for Isles draftees who have actually scored 100 points in the uniform. If you don't think this is a sign of better things, then you don't remember how long ago was a guy named Scott Lachance.
- Rushing the puck, Jack Hillen continues to please -- including his key play on Grabner's third-period tying goal.
- Defending the puck, with instincts and smart percentage plays, Andrew MacDonald also continues to please.
- Grabner's final tying goal, his second of the night, was the perfect example of how that line is giving opposition trouble each night: They created chances off the rush, maddeningly missed what looked like a sure conversion for Grabner, then continued to press as Grabner took a nice bounce behind the net, pulled it in front, and deposited it in for #19.
- Goal Race: Yes, #19 for Grabner, tied with John Tavares (who also scored) and Matt Moulson. This will be a fun sideshow as the season's final stretch arrives.
- Nice to see Tavares end his goal drought with another trademark "inside the circles, his hands are" goal.
- I haven't humored my Frans love in a while (at least not in the recaps) but it was another wonderful game from #51, displaying all the little things -- such as stubborn defensive plays in the neutral zone that shortcut Canadien breakouts -- that make him so quietly effective for all 200 feet of the ice. Throw his offensive counting numbers at me (OMG he's ONLY sixth on the team in scoring!) and I'll show you a swell all-around hockey player who creates offense despite constantly being deployed in defensive, tough-competition roles. He's not a sniper, but he's a fine hockey player -- and one day, a rich one.
- Finally: That Koskinen save on James Wisniewski was ridiculous. Enjoy it below if you didn't see it, or just need to see it again. (Below, they don't show the good replays though; those are in the full game highlights video above, I believe.)
All in all, a fun feel-good night. Everybody deserves those. I assume it's why many of us bother.
Koskinen Beats The Wiz
Hope his family got to see that one.