The Montreal Canadiens are starting to get hot at exactly the right time. After a dismal month that saw them slip down the Eastern Conference standings until they were hanging on tenuously to the 8th and final playoff spot, Montreal now has points in 4 consecutive games following a convincing 4-1 victory tonight over the high-powered Chicago Blackhawks.
The game was actually much tighter than the 4-1 score indicated, but Montreal goaltender Carey Price, who has been lambasted by Montreal media in recent weeks for his poor play, looked poised and confident in net, making several key saves to allow his teammates to build a 3-0 lead after two periods of play. A Patrick Sharp shop that found its way through a screen late in the 3rd period was the only chink in Price's armor. A confident Price is great news for the Habs, whose woes over the past month or so can be blamed almost solely on their shaky goaltending.
The win was huge for the Habs, but the night didn't go as perfectly as it could have for Montreal. The Florida Panthers came into play tonight trailing the Canadiens by just a single point for 8th in the conference. The Habs hoped that their bitter rivals from Ottawa could de-claw the Cats tonight, but their wish was not granted. The Panthers also turned in a clutch performance, posting a convincing 5-2 wins over the red hot Senators.
With less than two weeks left in the season the race between these two teams will be a compelling one to watch. The race is Montreal's to win or lose. Not only do they have a single point lead, but they also have a game in hand on the Panthers, and also would get the nod if the two teams finished tied in the standings on the basis of one more win. However, savvy Habs fans won't start popping the champagne corks just yet. As up and down as this team has been this season, fans are unlikely to stop holding their collective breath and start celebrating (or crying) until the final buzzer has sounded in game 82.