Top Shelf: Habs take offense up a notch in Game 1
By Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Marc Bergevin knew the Montreal Canadiens needed help on offense and the general manager went out and did something about it.
Bergevin's biggest move to boost scoring, of course, came when he landed prolific sniper Thomas Vanek at the deadline from the New York Islanders.
Vanek certainly factored into Montreal's Game 1 win in Tampa Bay on Wednesday night, but another forward acquired by Bergevin played the role of overtime hero against the Lightning.
Dale Weise, a speedy but low-scoring winger, came to the Habs from Vancouver on Feb. 3 and only cost Bergevin defenseman Raphael Diaz, who has since been traded to the New York Rangers. Weise scored three times in a 17-game run with Montreal in the regular season and he came up with a timely goal in OT of a road Game 1.
It was the first playoff point for Weise in his seventh postseason tilt
"I can't remember the last time I had an overtime goal, so that one feels pretty good," Weise quipped.
Weise scored off a pretty backhand feed from linemate Daniel Briere, ending an entertaining 5-4 contest with under two minutes remaining in the extra session. The wrister from just below the right circle beat a hapless Anders Lindback on his stick side after Briere successfully held off Tampa Bay defenseman Eric Brewer behind the net to deliver a perfect pass.
Fittingly, Briere is another recent Bergevin acquisition, albeit one that came over the summer and not during the season. Although Briere did little to justify his two-year, $8 million deal with just 13 goals and 12 assists in 69 games during the regular season, he showed again on Wednesday why he's one of the best playoff performers around. Briere's assist in Game 1 gives him 110 points (50 goals, 60 assists) in 109 postseason contests.
Weise's goal was the 44th shot of the night for Montreal, which showed, for one game at least, that it could hang offensively with Steven Stamkos and the Lightning.
The Canadiens ended the regular season ranked 21st in the NHL with an average of 2.55 goals per game, considerably lower than Tampa Bay's 2.83 gpg, a number that likely would've been even higher had Stamkos not missed nearly four months of the season with a broken leg.
Stamkos scored twice in Wednesday's contest, but the Canadiens survived that outburst by controlling play for most of the night. When the dust settled, Montreal had posted its sixth game with five goals or more of offense since the middle of March.
Montreal outshot the Bolts by a 44-25 margin to take the early lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference matchup and the Habs fired 22 shots at Lindback in the third period and OT combined. Perhaps Ben Bishop could have stopped a few more of those shots than Lindback did, but it's unlikely Tampa's injured No. 1 goaltender could have prevented Weise's shot from rising into the upper left corner of the net.
While Weise provided the most important goal of the evening, Vanek led the offensive barrage all night long. Montreal boasted six players with four or more shot on goal in Game 1, but none of them were more active than the Austrian winger who fired seven shots on net. Vanek connected one of those shots, converting a slick pass from David Desharnais to beat Lindback and give Montreal a short-lived 4-3 advantage with 8 1/2 minutes left in regulation.
After getting traded from Buffalo to the Islanders earlier this season before moving on to Montreal, it is anybody's guess what Vanek, an unrestricted free agent at season's end, has planned for his future. Maybe a deep run this postseason could convince the 30-year-old to stay with the Canadiens beyond these playoffs, but Montreal doesn't need to worry about that just yet. What's important now is Vanek continues to play the way he did on Wednesday night.
With Carey Price in net and a stout top-four on defense in front of him, the Canadiens needed a little injection of offense to compete at a high level in the playoffs. It was a safe bet the Vanek trade would help that cause, but Weise's play has been a bonus.
Bergevin's in-season moves certainly paid off in the opener when Montreal suddenly looked like an offensive juggernaut. The challenge now is to keep applying the pressure the second Game 2 kicks off Friday night in Tampa.
04/17 14:56:13 ET