Leave it to Alexander Romanov to breathe air into a game a ventilator wouldn’t have saved.
The Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Blackhawks put Thursday’s contest on life support for 37 minutes before Romanov lined up Sam Lafferty, dipped his shoulder down and delivered the type of hit regularly glorified in the Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Era of hockey. The Canadiens had two shots and zero scoring chances through one period, and the Blackhawks slept through most of the second before the young Russian woke them up with a bang.
Romanov’s board-bending check on Lafferty came five minutes after he helped the Canadiens tie the game 1-1.
“That’s what Romy does,” said Jeff Petry, who scored his first goal of the season by slamming home the rebound off the boards from Romanov’s missed shot. “He catches a guy like that, it seems, like once a game, and it does bring energy. At different points of the game, (he’s) getting the bench alive again. That’s something that he does pretty much game-in and game-out.”
If Romanov hadn’t done it, this would have been one of the most forgettable evenings in Canadiens history.
Instead, the action picked up right after Romanov crumpled Lafferty — with a fight instigated by Ryan Carpenter.
“It’s too bad for Romanov,” said Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme. “He’s a guy that hits hard and clean, and it’s part of hockey. So, if you don’t want to be on the ice and get hit, do something else. It was a clean hit. Just a hard hit. That’s part of hockey.”
What Carpenter did is a part of the NHL game we wish didn’t exist.
But he did it anyway, celebrated thereafter like he won the heavyweight championship of the world, and then parked himself in the dressing room where he undoubtedly watched the Canadiens score on the ensuing power play.
Carpenter probably wasn’t flexing when Montreal’s Mike Hoffman notched a slump-busting first goal in 13 games.
The Canadiens went to their dressing room up 2-1 with 20 minutes to go.
Patrick Kane responded with a 13-game drought breaker of his own early in a back-and-forth third period, and this game continued to run wild with the life Romanov gave it.
The suspense trickled into overtime and built to a crescendo when a great show turned into Theatre of the Absurd. What ended up becoming Philipp Kurashev’s winning goal for Chicago started as one of the most perplexing review sequences in NHL history.
On the play, Hoffman chased down Kurashev, checked his stick and then his body, and both players went careening into Canadiens goaltender Samuel Montembeault. The puck went off Kurashev’s leg, Kurashev’s leg connected with Montembeault’s as Hoffman knocked the goaltender off-balance, and the net came off right as the puck began to cross the goal line in the space that would normally have been covered by the net.
Official Dean Morton emerged from the lengthy review to tell fans at United Center the puck had officially crossed the goal line for a good goal. And then he told them to stop celebrating because they still needed to review the goal for offside.
Replays showed that Kurashev had crossed the blue line before the puck, but Morton eventually explained that the NHL’s situation room deemed him to be “in control” of the puck while doing so.
Subjective? If you asked 100 NHL players if Kurashev was actually in control of the puck, presumably at least 50 would have said he wasn’t.
If you asked Ducharme, we know what he would’ve said.
When the coach was asked whether he was most surprised that the officials felt it was Hoffman who knocked Montembeault out of the play, or that it was ruled onside, the coach responded, “What surprises me most is we were 0-for-2 on the calls.”
“You know,” Ducharme said, “we’ve got to be 0-for-10 on calls that get reviewed (in the last year).”
Heck, even his post-game interview was a lot more exciting than it appeared destined to be through more than half the game.
The night was shaping up to be a complete dud, too, before Romanov did his thing.
The 22-year-old, who came into the game behind just Florida’s Radko Gudas for hits among defencemen this season, wasn’t even supposed to be playing. Had Chris Wideman not been suspended earlier in the day for head-butting Erik Haula in Montreal’s 5-1 loss to Boston Wednesday, Romanov would have been hitting the snack bar in the press box instead of Lafferty.
Though definitely not by choice.
“I told coach that I could do this anytime,” Romanov said. “Anytime, I’m ready to go.”
Never mind that he had just gotten over COVID-19 and had participated in just one morning skate in two weeks before suiting up to play the Blackhawks.
But Romanov, who always has boundless energy, played 19:22, had one assist, one fight, two shots on net and finished plus-one. He had six hits in the game.
Without the one he threw on Lafferty, this column appeared destined to be about one of the worst hockey games ever witnessed at this level.