The Islanders made stop number two of nine on their long and winding road trip in beautiful (so I’ve been told, and desired) Montreal. The Canadiens hang precariously onto the top spot in the weaker Atlantic Division, only two points up on the Senators with two extra games played. The Islanders enter play tonight in the final wild card position by virtue of having played one less game than the Bruins and owning two more ROWs than the Panthers. Rather... precarious.
This game featured a couple of special milestones: the 1,000th game coached for brand-spanking-new Habs coach Claude Julien (*a single tear falls from my cheek*), and the first game in Montreal for Sorel-Tracy, Quebec native Anthony Beauvillier. He hosted (but didn’t pay for) well over fifty friends and family. The team also gave him the ol’ go-out-and-skate-by-yourself-kid, as the youths are calling it these days, but he was laughing the whole time.
As for the rest of the lineup, Cal Clutterbuck is day-to-day again with a nagging injury, while Casey Cizikas was placed on IR with an upper-body injury (likely a broken hand). Which means more Stephen Gionta, as well as the call-up of Bracken Kearns. They would man the fourth line with bewildered young sage Nikolay Kulemin:
Mentioned to Kulemin he'd be the youngest guy on his line. "Wait, how old is Gio?" I said 33. "Really? He's like a puppy dog."— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) February 24, 2017
Thomas Greiss made his 20th start in the last 24 games, while the excellent Carey Price guarded the twine for the Montreal. Scott Mayfield (who really has been quite good when he’s played) remained in the lineup and Adam Pelech ate poutine.
[Game Sum | Event Sum | Natural Stat Trick | HockeyViz]
First Period: Beauuu-m, Beau-m on the raaaange
Beauvillier would have an amazing start to his first game back home: after a jittery first shift, he settled in and on his third shift, he forced a turnover in the neutral zone and snuck in uncontested on the wing, taking a nice feed from Brock Nelson and beating Price short side. What a fantastic first return home - a tearjerker, even:
Proud Pop! @titobeauvi21 #Isles pic.twitter.com/dHcQdCFqup— IslesBlog (@IslesBlog) February 24, 2017
The teams would trade penalties as the period wore on, but no conversions occurred. Both goalies stood tall, Greiss stopping all 8 shots he faced and Price getting in the way of 12 of 13.
Second Period: Sneaky Lee
The Habs were buzzing to start the period, but Greiss was there to answer the Bell (haha, because it’s the Bell Centre? Folks?). In the first six minutes, he managed to get a shoulder on a shot off a 2-on-1 from Alexei Emelin, and then snared a wrister from Jeff Petry standing alone in the face-off circle. But his forwards would come to offer insurance.
Just before the six-minute mark, John Tavares forced a turnover in the defensive zone. The puck squirted out to Anders Lee and was sent right to Josh Bailey, who carried up through the neutral zone. He found Tavares as they skated up ice, who gave it back. Lee was cutting in on Price all alone, somehow sneaking around the Montreal defenders, and Bailey found him for the sweet deke and goal.
The goal gave Bailey his 42nd point of the season, giving him a new career-high in only the 60th game of the season. Maybe - probably - it’s all a fluke, or just the result of playing with two elite players (yes, Lee is elite, I said it!), but what an impressive season for the oft-maligned rebuild kick-starter.
Emelin rocked Tavares as he skated over the blue line in what looked like a clean hit. Johnny got up right away and chased the puck into the corner, but Emelin pulled him down for an interference penalty. Lee went after Emelin and took a roughing himself, but they also assessed one to Emelin to give the Islanders a power play, albeit one without Lee in front of the net, and the final 48 seconds of it carried over to the final frame.
Third Period: Bleu, BLANK, et rouge
The final :48 of the man advantage ticked off without a trace, and a back-and-forth battle between the two squads ensued.
The Canadiens thought they scored at around the 13:00 mark, but the referee waved the goal off immediately for being knocked in with a high-stick. It would be reviewed, but the call on the ice was confirmed. I couldn’t tell if it was the stick of Tomas Plekanec or Paul Byron, but no matter!
Less than a minute later, Montreal had another goal called back right away. Off a face-off in the Isles zone, a point shot from Andrei Markov was blocked by Kearns, and when the puck popped into the air, it was pushed in by the stick-gripping fist of Artturi Lehkonen. This one didn’t require a review, however, and the Canadiens stayed off the scoresheet.
Tavares sealed the deal with an empty-net goal, his 23rd of the season. Greiss finished the game with 23 saves for the shutout.
Can’t ask for a better first two games of this massive road swing. It was also the first time this season they won consecutive road games. The top line was clicking as usual, Beauvillier got himself a lasting memory, and Greiss added another jewel to his crown.
Oh, and the win preserved the Islanders’ playoff spot for the evening. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeee!
Two down, seven to go. Their next stop: Columbus, to take on the Blue Jackets on Saturday, a 5:00 p.m. start on MSG2 (no plus).
After that, they get a mini-bye week before their next game, Thursday, March 2 in Dallas. They will be flying home for the time off.