In beating the Devils Wednesday, the Montreal Canadiens took another step up the Eastern Conference ladder. Is this the year they go from playoff fodder to bona fide Stanley Cup frontrunner?
The Montreal Canadiens have won many a game thanks in large part to the efforts of star goalie Carey Price. Yet in a come-from-behind, 4-3 shootout win over New Jersey Tuesday, the Habs showed they don't need Price on the ice at all if the rest of the team is contributing.
The Canadiens won for the eighth time in their past 10 games – only San Jose is better at 9-1-0 – not simply because Price's understudy Peter Budaj stopped 31 of 34 shots and turned aside the Devils in overtime and the shootout. This team is far too talented to be defined merely by its netminding.
No, the Habs got the win on the road because the oft-maligned David Desharnais answered back for Montreal when it seemed like the Devils had their number: New Jersey took a 3-2 lead with 1:06 remaining in the third period, but Desharnais responded 29 seconds later to send it to overtime, then scored the shootout winner.
The Canadiens also won because they out-blocked the Devils by a more than 2-1 margin (14-6) and because they got goals from youngsters (Lars Eller) and greybeards (Brian Gionta) alike. Many (present company included) wondered whether the Habs could reproduce their stellar 2012-13 campaign, but there's no doubting them these days.
The win vaults Montreal into third place in the Eastern Conference, one point behind second-place Boston and two behind the Penguins. Their next handful of games include some hapless opponents (Florida, Buffalo, and the Isles) and if they take care of business against those teams, first place in the East isn't out of the question at all.
We've known the Canadiens were a playoff team for a couple years now. What we're seeing now is a team taking the next step to bona fide Stanley Cup frontrunner.