OK, they didn't prevail, they lost in overtime. But the number one reason the Habs were able to clinch a playoff spot Thursday night in Boston by losing 5-4 was discipline. More specifically, Mike Komisarek's discipline.
On two separate occasions, Komisarek found himself in a situation where he was tangled up with someone with their gloves dropped waiting for him to dance. But he didn't, and the power plays the Canadiens received as a result turned into their first and third goals of the game, both of which tied the score.
At the end of the first, Zdeno Chara was throwing punches, but Komisarek kept his cool (though I'm sure he had no interest in challenging Chara). Next thing you know, Alex Kovalev starts the second with a power play goal, and the game is tied 1-1.
Then, after hitting Milan Lucic from behind in the neutral zone, Shawn Thornton came flying at Komisarek with his gloves off but couldn't find a partner, and then Lucic also came in and tried to rip Komisarek's head off. The four-minute power play that ensued resulted in Mathieu Schneider's goal to tie it again at 3-3.
Both pivotal goals, both made possible by Komisarek showing a level of maturity we haven't seen from him in his entire career. That game may very well have been a turning point for him on his way to being an elite shutdown defenceman. He was credited with a game-high five hits and had a clutch blocked shot with the score tied in the third in just over 22 minutes of ice time. He did get eight minutes in penalties, but not a single one of his four minors resulted in a Bruins power play, and two of them gave his own team crucial ones.
I still can't for the life of me understand why Bob Gainey didn't dress Georges Laraque, because the Bruins approach to the game was very predictable and he may have been able to calm things down a bit. But you know what? The Habs did a pretty good job sticking up for themselves against a far tougher and bigger team.
Also, if Laraque dresses, perhaps Matt D'Agostini doesn't and his two-goal night never happens. Under that scenario, the Canadiens are not sitting comfortably in a playoff spot tonight.
Schneider's return paid off in a huge way with three power play goals, one off his own stick proving that his shoulder is just fine when it comes to shooting the puck. Now might be a good time to send Andrei Markov to see that doctor Schneider went to, because if the Habs have any hopes of winning a round in the playoffs they rest on Markov's speedy recovery.
Finally, there was Carey Price, who may have given up five goals on 33 shots, but battled the whole night to keep his team in the game and made a number of key saves. He was pretty money when the Habs needed it most, and I think that performance might have solidified his spot as the playoff starter, if there was ever any doubt in Gainey's mind on that question.
So now the Habs are a playoff team, and everyone knows anything can happen come playoff time. Price could get ridiculously hot, the first line could suddenly go on a tear, even Yannick Weber might turn into one of those obscure playoff heroes that seem to pop up every year. Basically, everything is new again and all is possible.
All that's left to be decided is where the Habs will start the playoffs, Washington or Boston. Both would represent formidable tests for the Canadiens, but both are also quite beatable because they lack playoff experience, especially between the pipes. Frankly, I think the Canadiens couldn't care less who they play, they're just happy to be in.
After a roller coaster year that provided every challenge imaginable, they should be.