The iconic image of this series may very well be Brandon Prust keeled over on his only shift in overtime, clutching his abdomen in pain.
A true gut-shot.
He felt it.
The Habs felt it.
Canadiens fans are feeling it.
After four games, the Canadiens trail the Senators 3-1, having outplayed their pesky opponents in three contests.
The Canadiens have been decimated by misfortune and by injury, and the Senators have caught a bit of luck to balance with what never came to them during the regular season.
Paul MacLean referred to a team that never stops playing until the final buzzer has sounded. Clearly, that team was rewarded last night, as the Canadiens held tight to a 2-0 lead before squandering it in the final minute of the third period, inevitably suffering defeat on an overtime goal that was as ugly as any of the ones allowed this season, league-wide.
You can't point the finger at Peter Budaj, who came into the game cold after 60 minutes of Carey Price standing tall before injuring himself on Conacher's game-tying goal.
It was clear Price was bothered by something as he skated to the corner after the puck went in. It was confirmed on the final shot of the period, when he went down and struggled to get back up.
Shortly before Kyle Turris ended this one--again, with one of the ugliest goals you'll ever see--Prust crumbled to the ice in pain from a play that happened early in the third period when he appeared to impale himself with his own stick, as he barreled heavily into the boards on the forecheck, narrowly avoiding a massive collision with Craig Anderson.
Adding insult to injury, the Canadiens and their fans were clearly perturbed by the allowance of Mika Zibanejad's goal, which appeared to be swept into the net on a distinct kicking motion. They were irate over two icing calls late in the third, the latter of which led to the game-tying goal, as they felt the Senators didn't make an honest effort to retrieve pucks before they crossed the goal-line. Michel Therrien also noted the importance of where the faceoff took place on Zibanejad's goal, stating he had selected his line based on his expectation that the puck would be dropped in the other faceoff dot of the defensive zone.
It's worth mentioning that the Canadiens only managed four shots on net in the third period, as they uncharacteristically tried to cling to a two-goal lead as opposed to pressing for insurance. All season long, Therrien stressed the importance of having to score three goals/game in order to win, and yet he elected to staple one of his best offensive players to the bench in Alex Galchenyuk.
Benching the rookie after he scored a tremendous goal in the second period sent a message to the team that they couldn't afford to make a mistake. It's doubtful that Therrien instructed his players to sit on their lead, but his management of the bench certainly made it clear that even calculated risks would not be worth taking.
And yet, there was Michael Ryder on with Tomas Plekanec and Rene Bourque to protect a one-goal lead with less than a minute to play. No sign of Jeff Halpern, who very well might have been the best Canadien on the night. There was Raphael Diaz instead of Norris candidate P.K. Subban.
These were odd choices that seemingly garnered little attention in the aftermath of the perceived blown call on the Zibanejad goal, and the icing calls that could've gone either way.
The Canadiens are hurt. Specifically, Brian Gionta is hurt. Ryan White is hurt. Brandon Prust is hurt. Carey Price is hurt. Lars Eller is hurt. Alexei Emelin is hurt. Max Pacioretty and Michael Ryder are believed to be hurting. The Habs are feeling the pain of trailing in a series they should at the very least be tied in.
Can they recover?
Can they be as resilient as these Senators have been all season?
Thursday's game will give us our first indication, perhaps our only one.
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-Looked like a distinct kicking motion to me, but because Zibanejad's skate never left the ice, I wasn't surprised the league allowed it. I would argue that had the goal been called back on the ice, that call would've stood on replay. It counted. The Habs still had the lead at that point. It shouldn't have mattered as much as it did, but the rest was almost predictable.
-We can talk about icing calls til the cows come home. It seems it's never as clear cut as it's called at any given point of a hockey game. There are disputable icing calls in every game, these two just happened to come at the wrong time.
Worse: Between those icing calls, the Plekanec line managed to get a puck in deep, and they had a chance to change before the final icing and elected not to get off. Ryder certainly could have made a change; he was closest to the bench.
Were the coaches telling them to stay on?
-I think Canadiens fans will understandably hang their heads on this one. For as much character as the team possesses, it's hard to argue that a 3-1 deficit coupled with devastating injuries paves the road to a glorious seven-game victory for the Habs.
As for the team, I don't think they feel as defeated as their fans do.
-The two goals the Habs managed in this one were true beauties. What a pass from Plekanec, what a shot from Subban.
What a play by Halpern, what a shot by Galchenyuk.
-Worst stat of the post-season (outside of Vancouver's 0-4 to the Sharks): The Habs have been outscored 9-0 in the third period, outshot 43-34.
-I don't think the Habs completely sat back in the third period. I just don't think they pressed hard enough to score the insurance marker, especially after Zibanejad's goal.
Can you blame them?
With so much at stake, with the game so close, they just didn't want to make that final mistake. And yet...self-fulfilling prophecy.
The team that usually wins is the one that stays truest to itself. The Habs didn't play their style of game in the third--at least, not the one that's netted them success this season. The Senators played their brand.
-Hasn't been mentioned much, but Daniel Alfredsson made a fantastic play on the game-tying goal. Outside of Anderson, he's been the Senators' best player.