The Habs were looking to get back in the win column on Saturday against Vancouver after a pair of overtime losses. They blew leads early in the second and third periods and twice had to come back to tie it but managed to survive overtime and win in the shootout, coming away with a 5-4 victory.
Dominique Ducharme made three lineup changes for this one and not all were planned. Carey Price got the start as expected while Victor Mete replaced Xavier Ouellet. However, Artturi Lehkonen also returned to the lineup with Tyler Toffoli being scratched due to an injury sustained late in Friday’s contest and slotted into his spot alongside Nick Suzuki and Joel Armia. Toffoli is listed as day-to-day.
The Habs had good pressure on the first two shifts of the game, controlling the play in Vancouver’s end and doing a nice job breaking up their clearing attempts. Near the 2:30 mark, the Canucks dumped the puck in. Normally, that’s not worth noting but Price lost his footing and very awkwardly batted the puck away. It was going to miss the net anyway but that was still a bit of an odd sequence. Bo Horvat slipped and fell on his own just seconds later for good measure.
Just under three minutes later, Lehkonen intercepted another clearing attempt. That started a sequence that saw Montreal get a couple of chances and ended with Lehkonen drawing an interference call on Tyler Myers to give the Canadiens the first power play of the game.
The first half of the advantage looked like how Montreal structured the power play before the coaching change. It was all Shea Weber, all the time as he fired several shots. It was after a missed opportunity that the Habs were able to capitalize. Jonathan Drouin intercepted a clearing attempt at the point and slid to Nick Suzuki at the right faceoff dot. His shot – which was taken from nearly the same spot as his game-tying goal on Friday – beat Holtby to open up the scoring.
The rest of the period was a defensive clinic from Montreal as they held Vancouver without a shot for the final 16:32 of the frame with the Canucks having minimal zone time with the puck. It’s not as if the Habs had a bunch of chances though either with the highlight of their second half of the frame being two minutes of zone control although not much came from it. The two sides went to the room with the Canadiens up one while holding a 10-2 shot advantage.
It didn’t take long for Vancouver to get a shot in the second as three seconds in, Alex Edler’s shot from his own back end was hard enough that it was count as a shot on goal. Seconds later, Vancouver was on the board. Nick Suzuki turned it over behind the net to J.T. Miller. He found Jake Virtanen who had inside position on Weber (who may have been hedging for an eventual Suzuki reverse) and tapped it home.
The speed picked up over the next few minutes but the chances weren’t plentiful. Brendan Gallagher tried a jam play but couldn’t get it to go and several shifts later, Vancouver couldn’t capitalize on a 3-on-2 as Jimmy Vesey’s feed for Brock Boeser didn’t get through. 30 seconds later, the puck came to Alexander Romanov who skated in from the point but his shot was blocked out of play.
On the next shift, Brett Kulak was called for holding, sending the Canucks to their first man advantage. They had a few outside shots and then Montreal did well stopping them in transition in the middle third of the power play. However, Vancouver got re-established in the offensive zone and worked the puck back to Quinn Hughes. His cross-ice feed to Boeser who was all alone at the top of the left faceoff dot was on the mark and the winger one-timed it home.
That seemed to give Montreal a jolt as they started to retake control but weren’t rewarded for it right away. Mete was stopped on a breakaway less than a minute after Boeser’s goal and three minutes later, Lehkonen had a strong rush and deke around Nate Schmidt but his shot just missed.
Eventually, things went their way. Gallagher’s line had several missed chances but Gallagher was able to draw a delayed penalty on Myers on the play. As the Habs were working the puck around, Phillip Danault sent it from behind the net to Tomas Tatar in the slot and he beat Holtby glove-side to tie it up.
The Canadiens didn’t let up and had plenty of zone time over the next several shifts. With just 1:39 left, they were able to get the lead back as Joel Edmundson’s shot was perfectly placed through a screen and beat Holtby; Tatar tapped in the rebound for good measure but it didn’t matter as the initial shot went in. It was a much more eventful period than the first but the result was the same with the Canadiens holding a one-goal lead. The shots were a lot closer in the second with Montreal holding a 12-10 advantage.
The lead was once again short-lived as 22 seconds in, Hughes’ point shot was tipped by Horvat past Price to tie the game; it was the second straight period that Vancouver scored 22 seconds into the frame. Also for the second straight period was them scoring again soon after. A dropped stick in the offensive zone gave the Canucks an opening in transition which Jayce Hawryluk did. He gained the zone and found Tyler Motte who beat Price. Less than a minute in, the lead had been flipped.
The Habs nearly had it back a minute later as off a turnover in the Vancouver zone, Josh Anderson had a chance in alone but Holtby made the stop.
The Tatar-Danault-Gallagher line was Montreal’s best all night so it’s only fitting that it was that trio that tied it up. Just past the five-minute mark, Danault won the faceoff clean to Gallagher on a set play. He had a bit of room to skate into a wrister and he beat Holtby glove side to make it 4-4.
The next several minutes were largely uneventful aside from an odd chance for either side. Edmundson handled the puck like a hot potato which resulted in a turnover where Nils Hoglander had a good chance. Two minutes later, a dump-in from the Habs took a weird bounce right to the slot; Jesperi Kotkaniemi skated in but couldn’t elevate the shot and Holtby made the easy stop.
Montreal controlled the play in terms of zone time in the final stages of the third but didn’t really generate any significant opportunities. On the other hand, they didn’t yield any as the two sides went to overtime. Shots on goal in the third were 15-4 for the Habs.
Ducharme changed up his starting trio for overtime with Danault and Byron being replaced by Kotkaniemi and Drouin. There really wasn’t much of a difference as the Habs opted to play keep away for the first half of the extra session with Tatar missing the net for the only reasonable scoring chance.
As it turns out, it took until less than a minute to go for a shot to be recorded but what a final minute it was. Horvat was stopped in close, sending Montreal the other way. Danault made a strong move to drive the net but couldn’t jam it home with Tatar missing on the rebound. 30 seconds later, Drouin made two strong individual moves with speed and had a great opportunity but Holtby made the strong glove save, sending the Canucks back out. Boeser had a chance to win it with seconds left and Corey Perry in coverage but Price stretched out for his best save of the night to send it to the shootout.
Both teams scored on their first shootout attempt with Perry and Boeser lighting the lamp. It took until the sixth round for the next goal to be scored as Tatar beat Holtby. That meant Hoglander had to score to keep the game going but he couldn’t, meaning the Habs finally secured an extra-time victory and finally won a game in their blue uniforms.
The game was not a goaltending clinic as Price stopped just 14 shots in the winning effort while Holtby kicked aside 36 of 40. Both came to play in the shootout though with several quality stops on both sides. Both teams were successful on their lone power play opportunity as for the second straight game, two of the most penalized teams in the league were hardly penalized.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Tomas Tatar – His line was Montreal’s best in this one and it wasn’t by a little bit. They controlled the play at five-on-five and it was Tatar’s goal that tied it up in the second while he had the winner in the shootout for good measure. His goal was his first in a dozen games and if he can get going now, Montreal’s attack will be a lot deeper.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +3 rating, 1 shot, 18:37 TOI
2nd Star: Brendan Gallagher – He didn’t have as many points as his linemates but Gallagher was the sparkplug for the trio. His hard work led to drawing the delayed penalty that resulted in Tatar’s goal and of course, he had the crucial tying goal in the third. There have been games this season when he has been quieter than usual but this was not one of those.
Stats: 1 goal. +1 rating, 1 shot, 15:50 TOI
3rd Star: Phillip Danault – It’s not often he’s the big shooter on this line but he was in this one and they certainly weren’t all weak ones by any stretch. He made a nice move in OT that led to a good chance but his biggest contributions were the two assists on the game-tying goals.
Stats: 2 assists, +3 rating, 6 shots, 2 hits, 7/13 faceoffs, 18:07 TOI
Honourable Mentions: Artturi Lehkonen and Victor Mete – In Lehkonen’s case, he wasn’t even expected to play in this one and had minimal practice time with Kotkaniemi and Armia in recent weeks. Frankly, he had minimal time on any line recently since he has somehow fallen out of favour with Ducharme in a hurry. But despite all of that, he had a steady performance and while he somehow wasn’t credited with any takeaways, he certainly caused some turnovers from Vancouver while creating some good chances offensively. As for Mete, he was quiet and steady. Considering how his last few games have been when he has had a chance to play, I’ll take that any day and so will the coaches.
Lehkonen’s Stats: 0 points, -1 rating, 1 shot, 2 hits, 13:07 TOI
Mete’s Stats: 1 assist, +1 rating, 2 shots, 13:32 TOI