Seems to me I’ve heard the line before – “It’s not about how you start, it’s how you finish”   In this case the story was how the Canadiens finished because they weren’t great at the start.   They didn’t get their first shot on goal until the eighth minute and that was an excuse-me dump from Alexei Emelin.   At that point they were already down 1-0 on a tip in from Vincent Lecavalier.  It was 1-0 at the end of the first period.  The second and third periods for the Canadiens were from a different playbook.  The Habs scored the last three goals of the game to win the game and, small mercies, break the tie for twelfth place in the Eastern Conference.

Adding It Up

Welcome Back – Brian Gionta missed eleven games with a groin injury.  His first game back they assigned him to c a “smurf line” with Plekanec and Cammalleri.  Some smurf line!  While the rest of team was undergoing a case of first period  stage-fright, the ‘smurfs’ took their game into the Tampa Bay end of the ice.  The rest of the team took almost the full first period to get with the programme.

Welcome Back Pt. II – Max Pacioretty spent the week answering questions about his poor play (1 goal sicne December 10th).  He was back.  With a vengeance.  Every thing that we hadn’t seen since his suspension; hitting, net presence and a goal and an assist.  He had six shots on goal through the first two period and ultimately was the first star of the game.

Confidence Found…  What about Lars Eller?  Was it only just over a week ago he was beating himself up over what he perceived as letting his team down by costing them two goals in a loss to Florida New Year’s Eve?  He followed his four-goal night against Winnipeg with another dominating effort which resulted only in a legitatimately-called-back goal but 20 dangerous minutes ice-time.  And he is making his linemates look terrific…

Which Brings Us To…… Andrei Kostitsyn.  Is this the chicken…or the egg?   Is Eller going well because of Kostitsyn or the reverse?  As well as Eller is playing, Kostitsyn is in the zone.  He gave us a mirror image of the great circle stickhandling job he perpetrated on Winnipeg Wednesday.  Only difference was there was no goal at the end of it.  If we could get this out of Kostitsyn six out of every ten games, there would be no question about his value to the Canadiens in his unrestricted year.

The Coach – Did you notice in the third period while protecting a one goal lead the Canadiens used two forecheckers?  After three years of that fall-back ‘prevent’ defence that Jacques Martin consistantly employed, Randy Cunneyworth had his team take the game to the Lightning in the third period.  The final twenty minutes had it’s nailbiting  moments but not the kind we have  been accustomed to and learned to hate pre-Cunneyworth.

Cunneyworth II – Dressing only three centres for the game seemed to be a little risky (Nokelainen was a healthy scratch).  An injury to Plekanec, Eller or Desharnais would have put the team in a bind although Cammalleri has played the position in the past.  In the end it all turned out OK.  As for the seven man defence – it also worked out with Gorges/Subban and Diaz/Emelin getting most of the work and Campoli-Kaberle getting some power play work and around 14 minutes ice time.  Sadly, Hal Gill got only 10:33.  But there were hardly any penalties and killing them is something he can still do very well.

Turning Point – The Canadiens started to lay the body on in the second period and it changed the game.  It started with Kostitsyn and then Coled leveled Steve Downie.  Diaz laid a big hit on Martin St. Louis.  Alexei Emelin in the third period went mano-a-mano against the always-tough Ryan Malone and hammered St. Louis.   Even with the cage to protect that damaged cheekbone, Emelin recorded another seven hits.   It was the Canadiens, not the much bigger Lightning, who dominated the physical part of this game.  In the game, the Canadiens outhit Tampa 28-15.

Worth Mentioning –   …..Carey Price couldn’t be faulted on the goal he gave up.  I thought Erik Cole might have done a better job along the boards against Dominic Moore and Lecavalier snuck up on Alexei Emelin at the side of net which allowed the tip-in.  Considering there were other outstanding performances, (Eller-Kostitsyn-Cole) I’m not sure Price deserved second star.  However, it’s almost knee-jerk…if the Canadiens win, Price gets a star; usually for good reason.   ……Erik Cole might have been better on the only Lightning goal, but he made up for that the rest of the game.  Another outstanding night which included that tap-in the final minute for his team-leading 17th goal of the season.   ….Another very good night for Michael Cammalleri.   ……That was a really nice goal from Michael Blunden who put himself in position in front of the net for what was not a shot, but a pass from pointman Hal Gill.  First goal as a Canadien.  He got only 4:22 of ice time in this game, but when given the chance he’s done the job.  …..How would things have changed in the first period if Josh Jorges hadn’t chased down Steve Downie on a breakaway 11-minutes into the game after P.K. Subban had coughed up the puck at the Lightning blueline?  A goal would have given Tampa a 2-0 lead and once again re-fueled Canadiens self-doubt.

From the Game Sheet –  Time on Ice-Forward – Andrei Kostitsyn (20:34); TOI-Defence – Subban (23:04); Shots on Goal – Pacioretty (7); Hits – Emelin (7); Cole (4).  Blocked Shots – Gorges (5); Faceoffs Won/Lost – Desharnais 58% (11/8)

Ahead – Dare we hope for three wins in a row, something that hasn’t happened since the Canadiens beat Boston October 29th?  The Canadiens host St. Louis Tuesday and then head for Boston Thursday.