If you had bet $100 on the Montreal Canadiens (28-27-5) beating the NHL-leading Washington Capitals (44-10-4) and topped up your wager on both teams combining for at least six goals, you’d have made five times your money.
It’s a lousy payout when you consider how unlikely it actually was that the Canadiens would inevitably prevail by a score of 4-3 on Wednesday night.
The Capitals, anchored by Vezina Trophy candidate Braden Holtby (lifetime 8-0-2 against Montreal), were seeking their fifth straight win. It would’ve have been their third win in as many games against the Canadiens this season.
The Canadiens, who arrived in Washington battered and bruised, hadn’t recorded more than one regulation win on the road since Dec. 1. They were missing their middle pair of defencemen (Jeff Petry and Nathan Beaulieu), third-pairing anchor Tom Gilbert has been shut down for the remainder of the season, and winger Dale Weise was coming off a stomach virus that kept him out of Monday’s game against Nashville.
Yet, this turned out to be a really exciting hockey game. And the result had to be immensely satisfying for the Canadiens on two levels.
There’s beating the best, which always feels good.
But for the team’s front office, who are hoping to shake things up on the trade market after two of the most disappointing months in franchise history (six wins in 25 games from Dec. 1 to Feb. 1), they got excellent performances from all the players they’re reportedly shopping.
Weise, who’s Montreal’s most likely player to move between now and the Feb. 29 trade deadline, played 14:18 minutes of ice time, set up the game’s first goal on a perfect bank pass off Holtby’s pad to Alex Galchenyuk, had three shot attempts and made several quality plays at both ends of the ice.
Forward Tomas Fleischmann, trade target numero deux, scored his 10th goal of the year to put his team up 3-0 less than two minutes into the second period with a seeing-eye snapshot that chased Holtby from the game.
He had a chance at a second goal on a nifty give-and-go with newly-minted forward Paul Byron (who signed a three-year extension Tuesday evening) in the third period, but the puck never got to him. And he was on the ice with less than one minute remaining in regulation, helping the Canadiens protect a one-goal lead.
Lars Eller, reportedly on the trading block, finished with a 51.43 per cent Corsi For despite playing heavy minutes against Washington’s top line of Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Justin Williams.
It's been that kinda night. Spoke with a member of another team's management on the phone; Montreal's Lars Eller is on the market.
— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) February 23, 2016
Eller also set Galchenyuk up with the game-winning goal at 12:36 of the third period. Less than three minutes earlier, he picked off a Mike Richards pass in the defensive zone, and just missed chance to ice the game on his own.
Two scouts from Chicago were in attendance (two executives from Chicago were also in Montreal Monday– including GM Stan Bowman who told Sportsnet he was scouting Galchenyuk as part of his management duties for the World Cup Under-23 North American team). Two scouts for Columbus were there, too. They are two of the teams Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported were believed to be interested in Eller in his 30 Thoughts column earlier this week.
La Presse’s Marc Antoine Godin had reported that Bowman was also in Montreal to watch Weise, but the player’s illness earlier this week canceled out that mission.
Getting back to the satisfaction of beating the NHL’s best — Canadiens goaltender Mike Condon had to have been overjoyed.
Condon was in the net on Dec. 3 when Montreal — who then had a four-point lead on the Capitals for first place in the Eastern Conference — played their most dominant game of the season and lost 3-2 to Washington.
The Canadiens held Washington to 19 shots that night, while firing 35 shots at Holtby. They had 20 scoring chances in the game, but Montreal was stonewalled.
On Wednesday, Condon kept the Canadiens in the game early; pushing aside four quality scoring chances before his team even notched a shot on net. He ended up stopping 33 shots in the game, including a beautiful behind-the-back stick save.
“Condon was extraordinary,” said Canadiens coach Michel Therrien.
With that, the Canadiens handed Washington their 11th regulation-time loss this season. It was about as unlikely a scenario as you could imagine.
Who would’ve bet on it?