Saturday night games between the Leafs and Canadiens have been an institution in this country for longer than a defenceman named Tim Horton introduced us to the ‘double-double’.
What made last night’s 5-3 Toronto win all the more compelling was the performance of the Olympians who will be competing for their respective nations in Sochi next month.
There was Team Canada goalie Carey Price making a save off American rival Phil Kessel on a breakaway in the first period. While Habs fans applauded the play – those living north of the border certainly won’t be cheering if the same scenario plays itself out, say in a gold medal rematch. Or, God forbid, a shootout.
Kessel did exact his revenge later in the game, registering his 23rd goal of the season. He also earned the second assist on the eventual game-winner, scored by his potential Olympic linemate James van Riemsdyk. Both star-spangled players were among the three stars named at the end of the game.
Meanwhile, a chorus of boos from the 19,667 fans in attendance rained down on Habs defenceman PK Subban whenever the Team Canada blueliner touched the puck. Subban appeared rattled in the opening seven minutes of the game when the Leafs applied furious pressure in the Montreal zone. Just 48 hours removed after taking a lot of unnecessary flak for his overtime goal celebration in Ottawa, Subban led all skaters with a workload of 30:33 in ice time, finishing the game with one assist.
Of the eight Olympians that the Habs will send to Sochi, two will play for team Russia – defencemen Alexei Emelin and Andrei Markov. Neither one had a great night. Emelin was deked out of his thermal underwear by Nazem Kadri on the first goal of the game after an ill-advised attempt to go puck-fishing rather than play the man. And, it was Markov’s turnover, and inability to get back into the play, that led to JVR’s goal.
How fitting it was that Chris Hadfield, former commander of the International Space Station, sang the national anthem in a game that had plenty of international flavour.
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