Bartlett: Habs return to Montreal in good spirits

John Bartlett
1/22/2012 7:19:55 PM
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MONTREAL - Just a few hours after their victory over the Maple Leafs in Toronto, the Canadiens returned home to hit the ice at the Bell Centre in front of over 18,000 fans today for an open practice.
Last night's win for the Habs in Toronto, meant they picked up three of a possible four points over the weekend, and have kept some hope alive in their quest for a playoff birth. It also meant the fans today, mostly youngsters, were in a jubilant mode.
The morning skills competition saw all the usual competitions with P.K. Subban winning the hardest shot at 151 km/h. Max Pacioretty was a sharp shooter in the accuracy contest, while Lars Eller clocked in as the faster skater. He joked that he was able to take the title as Erik Cole sat out the skills portion, but did play in the 4-on-4 game later on.
The most noticeable absence today from the practice was Carey Price. He suffered a cut on his foot and sat out the festivities today, but is expected to be ok for practice on Tuesday.
The victory over the Maple Leafs was key in the standings considering it was a regulation win, and pulled the Habs to within 6 points of Toronto. The Capitals and Penguins afternoon affair on Sunday didn't do the Canadiens too many favours with a Pens shootout win, leaving Montreal 8 points back of Washington for 8th place in the Eastern Conference.
The game also showed some positive notes for a few players, including Scott Gomez. His play has been fairly steady since returning from injury. He set-up Diaz for the game winning goal last night and made some positive contributions on the ice.
Rene Bourque took a lucky bounce and converted on his first goal in a Canadiens uniform. He's slowly starting to get accustomed to his new team and line mates. He should benefit from a few days in between games to get in some solid practice time and organize his transition to Montreal away from the rink as well.
David Desharnais on a few occasions last night proved for a small guy, he can put up some big fight, including a few puck battles with Dion Phaneuf, where Desharnais came out the victor with the puck.
And for all the times that Price or Peter Budaj for that matter, have been bumped, crashed and generally faced a lot of traffic in their blue paint all year, it was the Habs that made it a difficult night around the Leafs net which helped out on their pair of third period goals. Randy Cunneyworth has tried to enforce solid net presence and traffic in front. Last night, it paid off with a big two points.
The Habs will face the Detroit Red Wings at the Bell Centre on Wednesday night in their final game before the All-Star break. A win could go a long way heading into the break with the team gearing up for stretch drive.
While the Habs and Leafs were the focal point last night at the Air Canada Centre, it was Hamilton that deserved to take centre stage during the afternoon and on Friday night, as Ivor Wynne Stadium played host to the AHL Outdoor Classic. It was the first outdoor game in the AHL held in Canada. Hamilton Bulldogs Owner Michael Andlauer and all the Bulldogs staff deserve a lot of credit for putting on an outstanding weekend event, which not only showcased the Bulldogs, but the American Hockey League and the City of Hamilton.
Friday night's main event saw a star studded alumni match-up between the Canadiens and Maple Leafs. It was a game in which many of the players who participated said was a spirited and fun night, with a very high tempo as both teams wanted to win. The Leafs alumni survived a final minute surge by the Canadiens with the net empty to hold on for a 6-5 win.
Then Saturday afternoon, the Bulldogs took on the Toronto Marlies in a showcase event for the AHL. The Marlies added a few late goals in the third for a 7-2 win before a full house of well over 20,000 fans, setting an AHL record for the highest attended AHL game in Canada.
Andlauer came up with the idea last year while in Calgary at McMahon Stadium, and brought up the idea of hosting the AHL All-Star Classic outdoors with AHL President David Andrews. Due to scheduling issues, weather and travel concerns, the All-Star Classic wasn't a good option, but having the Leafs and Canadiens alumni and farm teams play on the same weekend as the big clubs, was a resounding success. The AHL is an outstanding league and deserves to be showcased the way it was by Hamilton, and it was great to see. No doubt the weekend will serve with lasting memories for years to come for all those involved.
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