At this pivotal juncture of the regular season, there are no small victories. That being said, It would be hard to understate the importance Friday night’s 2-1 win by the Montreal Canadiens over the Calgary Flames. For the standings and their sanity, the Habs simply could not let this 6 à 8 at the Bell Centre slip between their fingers. The regulation win reestablished their six point lead for the fourth and final playoff spot in the North Division, while retaining three games in hand.
The Canadiens have had a miserable time solving Flames netminder Jacob Markstrom this season. The big free agent signing entered the contest undefeated against the Habs in four games, stopping 104 of 107 shots in the process. It wasn’t much, but two goals from Tyler Toffoli, mired in his first mini-funk in bleu-blanc-rouge, was all Habs goalie Jake Allen needed. After losing in a valiant effort on Wednesday, Allen bested his counterpart Friday with a 28-save performance.
The Habs were outshot 13-6 in the first period. Captain Shea Weber, criticized for his play of late, looked comfortable reunited with defensive partner Ben Chiarot in the early going, but near the end of the period, gave the puck away to speedy winger Johnny Gaudreau, hemming the Habs in their zone for an extended sequence. Another Hab still finding his legs after being out of the lineup, Joel Armia, effectively used his size to drive the net in the first.
The second period began with the Habs in an increasingly familiar position: on an unsuccessful powerplay. They entered the game two for their last 25 with the man-advantage, and came up empty on two more chances Friday. Midway through the period, Toffoli opened scoring with his 20th of the season, and first after going goalless in six games, beating Markstrom glove side from a Nick Suzuki pass. With Suzuki in the box for high-sticking, the Flames loudly rang shots off each post in rapid succession on the ensuing powerplay, keeping the Habs lead alive. Matthew Tkachuk was allowed to skate in alone on Allen, but he too hit the post on his backhand. The score remained 1-0 after two periods.
Tyler Toffoli, Jake Allen propel Canadiens to big win over the Flames
In the Habs' room: Tyler Toffoli's nose for the net proves critical in victory
Disaster was averted for the Flames early in the third period when Noah Hanifin slid hard into the boards and immediately left the ice with his shoulders slumped, but returned shortly after. From a Weber giveaway, Elias Lindholm tied up the score 1-1. He missed on his initial one-timer, but got an unlikely second chance from his knees on the follow-through. The inaccurate shot hit Chiarot and redirected past a confused Allen. With time winding down and an undesirable three-point overtime game on the horizon, Toffoli delivered his 21st goal of the season in the clutch, deflecting another centering pass, this time from Armia. Mark Giordano and Rasmus Andersson had point shots blocked in the final minute, preserving Allen’s seventh win of the season.
By no means a textbook victory, but despite being outshot and losing the giveaway battle, the Canadiens acquired a two-point cushion in the standings against the Flames. They still meet three more times this month, and all in Calgary. In the interim, the Habs will face the Ottawa Senators Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Bell Centre. Friday’s battle had a playoff atmosphere, and so too did the liveblog. Here are the three stars from the comments:
3. “It wasn’t pretty but we will take the two points and run, too bad Allen didn’t get the SO until next time folks if you cant play a sport be one!” —Joe Raposo
2. “Maybe recency bias but this is the biggest win since………….. I can breathe again. Nerve wracking finish.” — Mark Rheaume
1. “So, if it ends this way, 1st star Allen, 2nd star poteau a gauche, 3rd star poteau a droite!” — Haari Meech