In order to get us really pumped up for the playoffs, I decided I would spend some time going through highlights and game summaries, to recollect this season in it's entirety. Although we've had some big ups and downs, there were a lot of memorable games, and a lot of very entertaining games. From the 82 games the Montreal Canadiens have played this season, I bring you the top 10, according to me.
10. NOVEMBER 21, 2009 - DETROIT RED WINGS @ MONTREAL CANADIENS
This may seem like an odd choice, with 39 wins the 10th best game of the season was a shootout loss? Well this one started and ended on a sour note, but it needs to be remembered that half the team, and our entire second line was injured in this game. After a brutal shift by Georges Laraque put the Canadiens on the PK for 9 straight minutes in the first period, the team was tired and at the mercy of one of the best teams in the NHL. After some brilliant goaltending by Carey Price, Jacques Martin united the Cammalleri-Plekanec-A.Kostitsyn line, and the Canadiens rallied from 2 goals down in the third period to force overtime and a shootout. Although we didn't win the skills competition, this game showed me what our team was made of, and that we could battle back from nearly anything.
9. MARCH 6, 2010 - MONTREAL CANADIENS @ LOS ANGELES KINGS
Coming out of the Olympic break, the Canadiens were playing their best hockey of the season, however the previous game against San Jose had ended on a sour note with Maxim Lapierre getting suspended and the Habs blowing a 2-1 lead in the third period after a phenomenal performance by Carey Price. The next game against LA didn't look to be any easier, but Montreal played a perfect road game, helped by a very solid performance by Jaroslav Halak. With goals in the first minute of periods one and three, the game never really seemed in doubt. The Canadiens had struggled mightily against Western Conference teams to date, but Halak was leading the charge to change that.
8. FEBRUARY 5, 2010 - PITTSBURGH PENGUINS @ MONTREAL CANADIENS
Beating the reigning Cup champions is always a good feeling, and up until this game they'd really made the Canadiens look bad over 3 games. This game is a prime example of having to be lucky to be good, and good to be lucky. The game was back and forth until 9:30 into the second period, when Halak made a huge save that rebounded to Hamrlik, who in turn set up Gionta for a breakaway. Gionta let loose a great backhand that got by Fleury. We were also given our first real glance at both David Desharnais and Brock Trotter in this game, and both were very impressive along with Ryan White.
7. MARCH 7, 2010 - MONTREAL CANADIENS @ ANAHEIM DUCKS
The game started ugly. The team was absolutely flat after a big win the night before, and Price wasn't as sharp as he was against San Jose earlier in the week, after one period we were down 3-0. For the first and only time in the season however, Jacques Martin made a goalie change when the game was still in reach. Halak rewarded Martin's move by saving all the shots Anaheim would fire at him, and the team would mount a comeback that began with Plekanec, and was carried on by Gionta and Markov. The shootout was a stunner for the hometown fans, as Gionta kept the Habs alive by shooting into Hiller's pads, and Hiller knocked the puck into his own net. Plekanec then finished what he started by sniping one past Hiller to win the game.
6. NOVEMBER 17, 2009 - CAROLINA HURRICANES @ MONTREAL CANADIENS
This game saw two players who'd been slumping offensively for the entire season finally get on the board, as Pacioretty opened the scoring and Andrei Kostitsyn tied it up later on. Montreal dominated the first 40 minutes in a way they rarely had to this point in the season, but they just couldn't finish on their chances. Some excellent goaltending by Michael Leighton (who left with an injury) and Manny Legace exacerbated the problem. Two defensive breakdowns by the Habs had us down 2-1 before Andrei Kostitsyn scored just his second of the year. But the real reason this game is memorable, is the overtime and shootout. Carey Price made seven brilliant saves in overtime while Montreal killed a penalty, and followed that by putting on one of the best shootout performances I've ever seen, and I'm sure many agree. With a little luck on Carolina's last attempt, he secured the win after Maxim Lapierre had scored a beauty on Manny Legace.
5. DECEMBER 19, 2009 - MONTREAL CANADIENS @ NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Montreal Canadiens fans had waited a long time to see one of their goaltenders record a shutout this season, and finally Halak managed to break the lack of shutouts with an unspeakably brilliant 40 save shutout of the New York Islanders, robbing Matt Moulson blind 4 times, every one of which was memorable. This was also the first game back for Andrei Markov, and there's likely no coincidence that this happened the same we got our first shutout. Markov stormed back into the NHL with the first two goals of the game, a smart pinch to bat in a loose puck, and a double-clutched slapshot from the slot. Montreal punished the Islanders with a powerplay that went 3/4 on the night.
4. JANUARY 23, 2010 - NEW YORK RANGERS @ MONTREAL CANADIENS
There's just something I absolutely love about lighting up the Rangers. I think it reminds me of "The Comeback" from that fated day, a day after my birthday in February of 2008. Maybe its the incredibly pissed off body language of Henrik Lundqvist when he gets frustrated and pucks go by him like its going out of style. This game was one that had so much to love. Halak got a well earned shutout, and he was in the heads of the Rangers players as they missed the net 15 times, many of which were good opportunities. The look on Lapierre's face after he broke a long scoring streak was also priceless. Cammalleri had his second 4 point game against the Rangers in 3 tries, and O'Byrne beat up Voros, what's not to like about this game? It was awesome!
3. APRIL 3, 2010 - BUFFALO SABRES @ MONTREAL CANADIENS
A week before, the Canadiens had squandered a perfect road game against the Sabres. Blowing a lead in the last couple minutes, and losing in a shootout. They wasted one of the best goaltending performances of the season, and they were determined not to do the same on this night. Halak had done it all himself the night before, holding a 1-0 lead for a whole game against Philadelphia, and he was just as good against the Sabres, but wasn't needed as much. The Canadiens played perhaps the best game they played all season, and a trio of unheralded players scored to take the 3-0 win. The expression of O'Byrne after his first goal in 100 games is worth watching this one alone.
2. OCTOBER 24, 2009 - NEW YORK RANGERS @ MONTREAL CANADIENS
After jumping out to a great start, some shoddy defensive play and sub-par goaltending got the Canadiens into a hole after one period, but the Canadiens weren't going to lose this game, not if Mike Cammalleri had anything to say about it. In what Montreal Canadiens fans have come to expect from Halak on his off nights, he started off shaky, but made huge saves when it matters most. Several big stops in the second period had the team fire up, and cued by a rush by Lapierre and D'agostini, a comeback was on. Cammalleri had scored the first goal of the game, and after Gaborik erased the progress made by Lapierre and D'agostini, he set up a Bergeron one timer that ripped past Lundqvist. With time running out in the second, Plekanec feathered a pass to a rushing Cammalleri in the slot, which he wristed past Lundqvist with ease. A back and forth third period led to overtime, where Cammalleri scored what can only be described as the goal of the year by a Canadiens player. Dangling from the Habs' blueline, Cammalleri dekes his way through nearly the whole Rangers roster and into the slot, where he fires a bullet past Henrik Lundqvist to win it in OT.
1. DECEMBER 4, 2009 - BOSTON BRUINS @ MONTREAL CANADIENS
I don't think I need to say too much about this one. I also think everyone knew this one would be number one. It's the centennial game, and it came after the most amazing ceremony, perhaps in hockey history. Cammalleri got a hat trick, Metropolit scored against his former team, and Price put on one of the best performances in goal we would see all year. Most Habs fans I knew had goosebumps from the moment Patrick Roy took the ice in full equipment, to the last second of the game when the Canadiens celebrated a 5-1 victory over their hated rivals. You know what? I still get goosebumps, say what you want about the Canadiens management and marketing department, but this was brilliance: