The Montreal Canadiens came out for the start of their potential first-round preview with the New Jersey Devils looking like they wanted to make a statement.
The first two minutes of the game were spent in the Devils zone, quite literally, and the shots were 7-2 in Montreal's favour when Roman Hamrlik was called for tripping at 7:31 of the first.
The Canadiens got a great chance on an odd-man rush right off the ensuing faceoff, but Josh Gorges sent Tomas Plekanec's perfect feed wide with an empty net in front of him.
Patrik Elias scored about 20 seconds later. 1-0 Devils. Game over.
OK, it wasn't quite so drastic, but Montreal was utterly dominated the remainder of that period and for much of the second, not once managing to tie the game back up, but staying within striking distance for the third.
I don't want to make too much of it, but I'm wondering why that goal totally took the wind out of Montreal's sails. I understand the Devils will clamp down with a lead, but still, the Canadiens were unable to generate much of anything in the offensive zone from that point forward except for a couple of quality scoring chances early in the third.
This has been a pretty common occurrence in Montreal in years past, where consistent pressure doesn't produce a goal and the team ultimately gives up the lead and becomes "deflated," which is how Brian Gionta described the Canadiens state of mind following Elias' goal.
But I'll say this after watching that game: no one can say the Canadiens would have zero chance of beating the Devils in a seven-game series. Yes, it would be difficult, but name a potential first-round opponent that wouldn't be?
Martin Brodeur was solid again tonight, running his career record against his hometown team to 38-16-5, but he is showing signs of mortality since the return from the Olympic break. His numbers since then are very good, don't get me wrong. He has a 7-3-1 record, a 2.46 GAA and .909 save percentage. But that's not other-wordly goaltending, at least not according to his lofty standards.
The Devils first two lines are dangerous and there's some good shutdown guys on the bottom two, while the defence is far from spectacular but efficient.
So while it may have disappointing to see Montreal never regain the tremendous momentum from the start of the game, I think it says something that the Canadiens were even in that game to the end. The way they were playing, they didn't deserve it, and that makes me wonder what they can do when they show up for 60 minutes of hockey.