It started rough, and became infinitely better, as the Tampa Bay Lightning overcame the initial Montreal lead to finish the Montreal Canadiens 4-1.
Prior to the game, speculation surrounded AHL call-up Cedric Desjardins, and whether or not he would start against his former affiliate team, and if he would be the answer to so many Lightning goaltending prayers.
Well, he did, and he was.
Granted, it didn't start out that way. Montreal entered the game fast and strong, so much so that they surprised Desjardins in net in the first minute, when Max Pacioretty skated up the left side, opening the scoring at 58 seconds.
"You know what, that happened, and that's what experience is. And that's why I'm ready for that league, because I've been through those type of games. Sometimes that's what happens, you have to step up your game. That's what we do as a team, and that's what I do." (Desjardins regarding Montreal's opening goal)
The goal, shaking nerves and killing initial credibility for Desjardins, resulted in a Lightning reaction that spent the rest of the period trying to overcompensate for the loss. Translation: the Lightning were out of sync and let Montreal dominate the first period.
According to Nate Thompson, Guy Boucher didn't need to state the obvious after the first period.
"We knew," he said.
Lesson learned, the Lightning came into the second period settled and strong. Two penalties to Montreal gifted the Bolts a 5-on-3 power play in the opening minutes of the period, and Martin St. Louis scored against Carey Price to even the score at 1-1.
Pavel Kubina scored against Price from the right corner ten minutes later to end the second period at 2-1.
The success continued to continue in the third. Steven Stamkos took a chance on a breakaway, which resulted in a penalty shot. Stamkos took towards the goal, but took a spin at the last second to fake out Price and raise the score 3-1.
While we're here, let's note that just because we now understand hockey spinning shots in the context of Linus Omark's spin-o-rama, the two were really quite different, and were quite different categories. My reaction: Seen Stamkos? (or rather, Stamkosis?)
And Stamkos didn't leave it at that. The Bolts surged on the momentum, with a brilliant goal three minutes later, as Stamkos took the puck to the right side of the goal, and wrapped it around to drop it in behind Price.
The Bolts finished the game 4-1, to end the year off on a high.
A note on the decision to play Desjardins: Boucher explained afterwards that the decision to play Desjardins a catch 22--it was the right time because the win streak had ended, but the wrong time because of the team (well, the wrong and right time). Boucher took extra care to make sure that Desjardins' first NHL game wasn't affected by extra nerves that could have come from facing your old team. He said: "It's a dream come true, to play for the Canadiens or against them. People don't realize how much of a roller coaster of stress and emotion that is."
It as clearly the right decision, as Desjardins proved his ability to react and adjust. After the first goal, Desjardin stopped every shot, 27 total.
Boucher, who has worked with Desjardins in the past, told the media, "The one thing that characterizes this guy is that he'll shut the door."
Well, yes. We see it now.
The Lightning play the New York Rangers on Saturday, January 1, 2011 (you know, next year) at 7:30 PM, so whether or not you make the game, start the year off right by dropping by the game thread. Happy New Years!
Canadiens vs Lightning coverage [SB Nation]
Habs Eyes On The Prize [SB Nation]
Canadiens vs Lightning boxscore [TSN]