Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he remembers from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at a 4-1 loss against the Montreal Canadiens:
It was a festive atmosphere inside of Bell Centre, as the Montreal Canadiens retired Guy Lapointe’s No. 5 sweater and raised it to the rafters in a ceremony before the game (but we’ll get to that). On a night they honored one of their legendary players, who happens to have Minnesota Wild ties, the ghosts of Les Habitants past wouldn’t let the club lose to the Wild.
In the third period the Wild was trailing the Canadiens by a lone goal, and Nino Niederreiter collided with Brandon Prust, who landed on top of Wild netminder Darcy Kuemper. With Kuemper flattened, Jiri Sekac found the loose puck and tapped it in to put the game out of reach. It was that kind of night for the Wild, who were unable to find loose pucks in the Habs crease while netminder Carey Price did the rest, making 30 saves for the win.
Montreal is not an easy place to take a win from the Canadiens. The Stanley Cup banners, the retired numbers hanging in the rafters and the crowd all give the Habs a unique home ice advantage. The Wild didn’t do enough on the ice to overcome Montreal’s mystique tonight.
Last season at the National Hockey League’s Trade Deadline, the Canadiens acquired Thomas Vanek. The forward didn’t spend much time in the City of Saints, only playing in 12 regular season games, but helped the Habs reach the Eastern Conference Final, eventually losing to the New York Rangers in six games.
The forward went to free agency in the summer and the rest, as they say, is history. Tonight marked Vanek’s return to Montreal, where he was received about as warmly as a jacket made of ice. Every time he touched the puck the Habs’ faithful booed the forward. At different points of the game, the crowd mockingly chanted “Toooomas! Toooomas! Toooomas!”
The forward quieted the crowd quickly in the second period. Jason Pominville picked off a pass in the neutral zone and moved it to Vanek on the left side. He stalked into the zone and Pominville broke to the crease. The Austrian put an extra heaping of marinara on his return pass to Pominville, which landed softly onto his stick for a tap-in goal. It was Pominville’s fourth of the year and Vanek’s team leading eight assist—which have all seemingly came on backdoor saucer feeds.
Canadiens’ defenseman Mike Weaver’s mobility is a far reach from the legendary smooth skating Lapointe. However, Weaver is pretty clever when it comes to using his feet on the blue line.
During the second period, Wild forwards Jason Zucker and Charlie Coyle were coming through the neutral zone with a full head of steam on a two-on-two against Weaver and Alexei Emelin. Zucker started to cut to the right as Coyle crossed to his left in order to straddle the blue line and stay onside. Weaver tracked Zucker and as he passed by Coyle, stuck his left leg out, tripping the big Wild forward. The unsuspecting Coyle tried to keep his balance, but stumbled offside. At full speed, it looked like the contact was incidental, but watching the replay in slow motion, Weaver definitely sticks the leg out. Here’s the evidence. Sometimes, you have to do whatever it takes and Weaver went with sneakiness over skill to defuse the two-on-two.
Defenseman Keith Ballard returned to the lineup after missing eight games with an illness. It’s never easy to miss that much time, especially when you’re sick and unable to skate. The blueliner skated in 13:04, had a shot, a hit and a blocked shot.
Ballard is a much better skater than Weaver, but he’s still a veteran defenseman with a lot of sneaky tricks in his bag. And he’s not afraid to use them to his advantage, either.
In the second period, the Habs were crashing the net and Ballard was engaged in a battle in front of it. He and a Montreal player were pushing and shoving, and Ballard ended up running into the Wild’s net. I’m not saying the blueliner intentionally shoved the cage off it moorings, but he definitely used the crossbar to regain his balance and in the process popped the posts off the pegs. The ref blew the whistle and Ballard went to the bench for a breather.
Tonight, legendary Canadiens defenseman and the Wild’s Director of Amateur Scouting Guy Lapointe’s No. 5 sweater was retired before the game. Lapointe is second on the Habs’ all-time list of defensemen scoring (166-406=572) and helped lead the club to six Stanley Cups in the 1970s. He patrolled the blue line with Serge Savard and Larry Robinson, who together comprised Montreal’s famed Big Three. All three have been elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame and Lapointe’s number joins both Savard’s and Robinson’s in the rafters. Both were on hand to give introductory speeches; Savard’s was in French and Robinson’s was in English for the bilingual crowd.
Of course, Montreal put on a classy pregame ceremony with several nice touches. Behind each net, the organization painted his number five in blue and red. During warmups, every Montreal player wore a Lapointe No. 5 sweater.
The congratulatory video was stirring, but still managed to include the blueliner’s well-known sense of humor. In a clip, cameras were rolling in the locker room before an old-timers game as former Mayor of Montreal, Gerald Tremblay, was going around the room and collecting autographs. As he bent over to get a signature, Lapointe dumped a pile of baby powder onto the back of the mayor’s suit coat. The mayor was none the wiser as he continued to circle the room.