12 days off, then the second game in two nights. 50 days since the last win. The eighth game of the current road trip. 32nd of 32 teams in the league standings. Seven players injured, two in COVID protocol, and one suspended. Those were the numbers for the Habs coming into United Centre in Chicago, not a pretty set, to be sure.
The bleu, blanc, et rouge played much better than that, particularly in the second period, and secured a point at the end of the regulation time, but a win once again proved elusive for this edition of the Canadiens.
It’s First Period Already?
The Habs did not look terrible to start the period, controlling the play at times, but neither team was able to get close to the other’s net at first.
It took an opportunistic Blackhawks breakaway to change that, as seven and a half minutes into the game, Jonathan Toews spotted Dominik Kubalik in the neutral zone and fed him a tidy pass from his own zone. Kubalik had seen Toews getting to the puck, but neither David Savard nor Ben Chiarot had seen Kubalik position himself for the play.
Kubalik rushed in across the Habs’ blue line with Savard in pursuit, but Chiarot satisfied himself with the front-row spectator seat. Savard wasn’t able to prevent a shot, and as Kubalik curved away from the goal, he lifted it over Sam Montembeault’s left pad to give Chicago the early 1-0 lead.
Corey Schueneman was called for hooking shortly after that, and the Chicago power play looked organized. However, the results were limited to just two shots on goal, which Montembeault turned away with ease.
Fifteen minutes in, Chicago had recorded only eight shots — but the Habs had none at all.
Schueneman finally recorded one shortly after that, taking a slap shot through traffic from the blue line, but Marc-Andre Fleury saw enough of it to make the save.
Philipp Kurashev was the one that created the scoring chance, though, as he and Lukas Reichel broke into the Montreal zone on a two-on-one. Fortunately, it was Alexander Romanov that was back, and the young Russian made an astute play in breaking up the pass and preventing a high-danger scoring chance on Montembeault.
Near the end of the period, there was a brief moment of sustained pressure by the Habs, and Poehling was able to take a short-range shot on Fleury. The veteran goalie kicked it away, giving Cole Caufield a golden opportunity, but the rookie sniper was not able to hit the net with his shot.
Toews was called for holding on Caufield as the Habs pressured, but the power play was less effective than the preceding 5-on-5 play, as the Habs could not make a controlled pass inside the Chicago zone.
The shots were 13-2 in favour of Chicago in the period, and high-danger chances an equally brutal 5-0.
The Second Team
It seemed to be a completely different team that skated out for the second period, even if the sweaters were still white and bore the famed CH logo.
Two shots in just the first minute, and four in the first five, with the Blackhawks not getting even a look at Montembeault. However, they got their first chances shortly after, with a flurry of shots on Montembeault, which the young goalie blocked.
At 7:42, though the Habs got their second power play opportunity, though, as Jujhar Khaira tripped Christian Dvorak. And this new team had a completely different approach to a power play than the team from the first period. Starting with solid control of the puck, Montreal’s power play looked better than it had in quite some time, though they were not able to put the puck past Fleury.
Just three minutes after the power play expired, though, as the Habs were once again applying pressure. Romanov took a long shot from near the blue line, Artturi Lehkonen tipped it, and the blocked shot came out on the right side as Jeff Petry was coming into range. Petry wristed the puck into the net on the short side as Fleury was sliding in, for his long-awaited first goal of the season, tying up the game at 1-1.
With just over two minutes left on the clock, Romanov delivered a solid but clean body check on Sam Lafferty as the Blackhawks forward tried to slip by between him and the boards. Ryan Carpenter took exception to that check and jumped on Romanov, gloves flying. After a brief tussle, both players received five-minute fighting majors, but Carpenter additionally collected a ten-minute misconduct and an instigator minor, giving the Habs another power play.
Caufield took a shot from near the faceoff circle, which was blocked, but the puck came back to him. He quickly flipped the puck to Mike Hoffman, who made no mistake, finding the back of the net for the first time in 13 games, and giving the Habs a 2-1 lead.
That period indeed showed a different team, as the Habs outshot the Blackhawks 17-6 and held a massive 9-1 edge in high-danger chances.
Third Goal Wins?
The Blackhawks apparently had their own talking-to during the second intermission as they had much more jump to the game as the third period started with the Habs back on their heels. The pressure resulted in an early penalty, as Petry was called for tripping Brandon Hagel in the defensive zone at 2:10.
The Blackhawks won the faceoff and maintained control for eleven seconds, which is all it took for Erik Gustafsson to get the puck to Patrick Kane to the right of Montembeault’s goal. Kane snapped a low shot which found Montembeault’s five-hole as the young goalie was trying to protect against a pass to Toews, who was positioned in front of the net. A tie game again, then.
Joel Armia was called for a check to the head five minutes later, giving the Blackhawks another opportunity to work their power play magic, and they went to work again, but this time without a result. Alex DeBrincat hit the left post, shot another one just wide, and then had Montembeault save his third chance with a raised right arm.
Kane hit another post with 7:06 remaining.
The Habs didn’t give up but with just over three minutes remaining, Laurent Dauphin was called for high-sticking Kane. The camera showed the Chicago forward forcefully rubbing his chin after the event, but he could not produce any blood for the referees, leaving the penalty at a single minor.
The penalty killers kept the Chicago power play well to the outside and it was only in the final seconds of the power play that the Blachawks threatened, with Montembeault having to turn away a flurry of shots from Reichel and Kubalik.
The Habs were outshot 11-8 in the third period, with the only high-danger chance being recorded by the Blackhawks.
And Then It’s All Over
The Habs took control immediately at the start of the overtime period, and maintained it effectively, losing possession a few times but regaining it again. However, they struggled actually creating scoring opportunities. Jonathan Drouin had a chance from the hash marks but shot wide, and Fleury made a sliding save on Suzuki’s wrister from the side of the net.
And then it fell apart.
Gustafsson won the battle for the loose puck after Suzuki’s shot, and fed it to Kane on the left-side boards. Kane made a cross-ice pass to Kurashev, who was then in all alone as Petry missed both the pass and the man. Hoffman skated back hard and caught up to Kurashev, crashing into the Chicago forward as both slid into the net, the puck following them as they dislodged the net.
The referee already had his arm up for a penalty on the play, or possibly a penalty shot, but the video replay confirmed that the puck crossed the goal line between the posts, so Kurashev was confirmed to have scored the game-winner.
The command centre then initiated a review to see if Kurashev was offside but the original call was upheld. Was Kurashev in control of the puck when he crossed the line? It’s arguable, but in the end it was yet another loss.
The Habs move to 7-24-5, now on 19 points but still in last place, slightly behind Arizona — and in the first place in the Shane Wright sweepstakes.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Alexander Romanov (0g, 1a, 5 shots, 19:22 TOI) played one of his best games of the year. Not only the assist, but he made an outstanding defensive play to save a goal, and his body check on Lafferty drew a Chicago penalty that resulted in the second Habs goal.
Second Star: Samuel Montembeault (31 shots, 28 saves, .903 save percentage) stood tall to keep the Habs in the game in the face of repeated attacks by the Blackhawks’ elite forwards, and deserves no blame for the losing goal in overtime.
Third Star: Jake Evans (0g, 0a, 3 shots, 15:00 TOI) was a force on the ice, creating dangerous scoring opportunities even if he wasn’t able to finish them this time.
Honourable Mention: Jeff Petry (1g, 0a, 3 shots, 22:42 TOI) broke his season-long goal-scoring drought, but he had some other less-than-stellar moments, including the missed defensive play in overtime.