The Habs were in Dallas looking to close off 2018 and their road trip on a high note. They were able to do just that, pulling off the comeback in a 3-2 overtime victory.
Claude Julien opted to make one lineup change from Saturday night but it may not have been the one some were expecting. Nicolas Deslauriers was back in for Matthew Peca while Antti Niemi got the start despite a particularly rough outing against the Lightning. Interestingly enough, Dallas is still paying Niemi $1.5 million this season which is actually $550,000 more than what he’s getting from Montreal.
It was fairly quiet for the first few minutes, a far cry from what we saw on Saturday. Near the six-minute mark, a Brendan Gallagher shot caught part of the post while Niemi made a strong stop on Alexander Radulov as the puck went the other way. Four minutes later, Mattias Janmark was sent on a breakaway but just missed.
Montreal got a strong chance a couple of minutes later. Ben Bishop thought he had the puck covered but instead, Paul Byron got it. He sent it cross-crease to Jesperi Kotkaniemi who fanned on the first attempt, allowing Bishop the time to get across for the rebound. Several minutes later, Victor Mete had a good shooting lane but Bishop made the stop and then Mete whiffed on the rebound.
Moments after that, Jason Spezza, who has more points against the Canadiens than any other active player, got around the defence which forced Niemi to make a strong stop. The Habs took the puck the other way with Jordie Benn carrying it into the Dallas end. He fed Brett Kulak who went behind the net and centred it for Phillip Danault who tapped it home to open the scoring.
The Stars responded well and got a couple of good chances on Niemi but he was up to the task. The Habs got one more good look before the end of the period as Kotkaniemi fed Artturi Lehkonen in the neutral zone. He went in with speed and was able to get a backhand shot off but couldn’t beat Bishop. Montreal headed to the room with a 1-0 lead and a 16-11 advantage on the shot clock.
It didn’t take too long for Dallas to get on the board. Three minutes in, Valeri Nichushkin got the puck and skated in down the middle. He fed it to Radek Faksa who beat Niemi from a sharp angle to even the score. Five minutes later, it was Nichushkin’s to shoot but Niemi made a sprawling save. The Habs struggled to get the puck out of their own end and eventually, Jeff Petry took a penalty.
Montreal did a decent job on the penalty kill at the start but got worse as it went on. Spezza had a prime opportunity in the slot following some poor defensive zone coverage but Niemi made the save. Spezza wound up hooking Byron right after to negate the rest of their advantage.
Just as the Canadiens started their power play, Roope Hintz was sent in all alone on a breakaway but Niemi made the stop. That was the best chance for either side on Montreal’s advantage although Kotkaniemi hit the post just after it expired.
A few minutes later, Radulov stole the puck and set up Janmark who was wide open in front of Niemi but against, the former Star made the stop. However, Montreal’s Benn took a penalty on the play. The Habs had some chances to clear the puck during the man advantage but failed to do so. That proved to be costly. Tyler Seguin took a shot from the right faceoff dot. Niemi made the save but Jamie Benn was right there to bang home the rebound.
The onslaught continued. In the final minute, Spezza got behind Benn to get in alone on Niemi. He deked him out before shooting but Niemi was able to sprawl across to make the unorthodox looking save. He was under fire in the period, facing a whopping 24 shots while Montreal was only able to put 10 on goal. The Habs were lucky to still be in it at this point.
Fortunately, they were better in the third. Two minutes in, Artturi Lehkonen took a shot that yielded a rebound for Danault. However, Bishop was able to get the pad across to make the save. Lehkonen had a good chance soon after on another shift but couldn’t put it home.
A couple minutes after the Lehkonen chance, Jordie Benn and Radulov went in two-on-one. After getting the pass, Radulov opted to wait for Seguin instead of shooting which allowed Niemi to get into position for the stop. That proved to be significant.
Two minutes later, a point shot from Shea Weber missed the net. Danault corralled the loose puck behind the goal and wrapped it around, barely squeaking it past Bishop to tie the game.
A couple of minutes after that, both teams had chances. Max Domi went in with Byron on a two-on-one but the Habs weren’t able to get a shot off. The Stars came back with numbers the other way but missed the net.
With three minutes to go, Mete got the puck behind the Dallas goal and came out in front with a shot but he still was unable to get his first NHL tally. The Stars came back the other way and Niemi was forced to make a good stop on Hintz. Both teams were content to play out the final few shifts and take their chances in overtime. The shots were a lot closer in the period at 12-11 for the home side.
The extra period was a quick one. Domi won the draw and got it back to Petry. He skated into his own end before sending a cross-ice feed to Byron. He attacked with speed before sending the puck to Petry who had hustled in to make it an odd-man rush. Petry received the pass and then lifted it over Bishop to give the Habs the victory.
Niemi allowed one soft goal in the game but all in all was quite strong, turning aside 45 of 47 shots for the win. Bishop was solid at the other end, kicking aside 35 Montreal shots in a losing effort. Both teams had a pair of power plays with the Stars scoring on one of theirs while the Habs were unable to score with their opportunities.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Antti Niemi – The choice to start him was likely not a popular one among the fan base following a rough night in Tampa. Claude Julien’s faith in him was certainly rewarded as he made several huge stops throughout the game and kept the Habs in it when they were asleep in the second period. He also snapped his season-long streak of allowing three or more goals in each game.
Stats: 45 saves on 47 shots, 1.99 GAA, .957 SV%
2nd Star: Phillip Danault – He’s not going to want 2018 to end, is he? He wrapped up a really strong road trip with another high-quality effort. Without him, this game wouldn’t have gotten to overtime. I doubt this will slow down the calls to move him down the lineup for long but he has earned some more time with Tatar and Gallagher.
Stats: 2 goals, +2 rating, 6 shots, 13/19 faceoffs, 16:52 TOI
3rd Star: Jeff Petry – To be fair, I didn’t think he had the best of games. We’ve seen better from him over the course of the season. However, he did get the game-winner which counts for a lot.
Stats: 1 goal, even rating, 2 PIMS, 2 shots, 3 hits, 3 blocks, 21:30 TOI
Honourable Mention: Jesperi Kotkaniemi – He continues to have nothing but bad luck when it comes to his shots but there was plenty of poise in his game at both ends of the ice. The game seems to be slowing down a little bit more for him and good things are coming from that.
Stats: 0 points, -1 rating, 4 shots, 6/9 faceoffs, 13:13 TOI