Even though their team lost in overtime tonight to the hated Boston Bruins Habs fans everywhere breathed a huge sigh of relief tonight as the stumbling Canadiens nabbed the single point they needed to clinch a playoff spot in the NHL’s tight Eastern Conference. By sneaking into the playoffs on game 81 of the season the Canadiens avoided a massive disaster. There would have been riots in the streets if the storied franchise had missed the playoffs in their centennial season. No doubt Gary Bettman and the rest of the NHL brass are happy as well as the Canadiens are one of the biggest cash cows in the league, and they can use all the money they can get in this difficult economic environment.
The game itself was a possible preview of a first round playoff match between the Bruins and Canadiens and players on both sides played as though the playoffs had already started, neither side giving an inch as the 2 teams racked up 76 minutes in penalties between them. Former Hab Mark Recchi played the spoiler, scoring the OT winner and picking up a pair of assists against his old team. Montreal defenseman Mathieu Schneider, who had been expected to miss the rest of the year with a shoulder injury, was back in the lineup and scored a key goal to stake Montreal to a 4-3 lead late in the second period. Giant Bruins rearguard Zdeno Chara tied it up early in the third to set the table for Recchi’s OT heroics.
The New York Rangers and the Florida Panthers, both embroiled in a three way race with the Habs for the final 2 playoff spots, won their respective games tonight. The Florida Panthers wound up being the odd man out as they were officially eliminated by Montreal’s single point. The Habs and Rangers finished the night tied with 93 points, and playoff seeding will not be decided until game 82 of the regular season. Montreal and New York will play either the Boston Bruins or the Washington Capitals depending on how things wind up. At this point Habs fans don’t care who their team faces, they are just glad they’ll get to see some playoff hockey…one round anyways.