Five days ago, the Habs were defeated by the young, inexperienced, and 30th ranked Edmonton Oilers. Couple of days later, the Habs failed to show up at the Heritage Classic, a game which most of the Habs players had circled on their calendar. On this night, in an arena in which they last won when Price was 13 years old and the year the Sedins made their debut in the NHL in 2000, the odds were stacked up on the free falling Canadiens.
The Habs had to have a fast start against the number one team in the league if they were looking to at least compete with the Vancouver Canucks. It was surprising to see how rapid and quick the Habs were skating in the opening half of the period after seeing this same team playing outdoors as if they had a chained ball strapped to their ankle. The Habs looked hungrier than ever as soon as the puck dropped than throughout this Western trip and it paid off.
They had their first power play of the game at 3:42 of the opening period and only their 3rd power play in the last three games. They failed to convert with the man advantage but generated a couple of opportunities with four shots on goal during that span. The 50’s line of #53 Ryan White, #57 Benoit Pouliot, and #58 David Desharnais got the Habs on the board at 6:07 of the period. Pouliot made a long stretch pass in between two defenders from his own zone to Desharnais who streaked away on a breakaway to beat Luongo on the 5-hole with his backhand. It was the rookie’s sixth goal of the year.
Only 67 seconds later, the Habs solidified their lead. All of the Habs five skaters on Gionta’s 22nd goal should have earned a point on the goal. Hal Gill started the play by sending a pass to Gionta who tipped the puck into the zone. Pacioretty used his speed to beat Salo to the puck and dropped it back to the captain who took a slap shot on the net. The rebound caused a huge scramble in front of Luongo who couldn’t cover the puck with Gomez falling onto the ice in front of Luongo. Gionta then sent the puck back to the point where Subban quickly released it towards the net allowing Gionta to score on the rebound.
Former Habs head coach Alain Vigneault, had enough of the Canucks’ slow start and called for a time-out to settle things down after they were being outplayed in every category of the game. At 9:09 Max Pacioretty’s shot was just centimeters away from giving the Canadiens a 3-goal lead. Luongo made a toe save for one of his 14 saves in the opening period.
As expected, the Canucks got their “A” game going while the Habs were defending the lead throughout the rest of the game. The Habs were called for four minors in the second period. It all started with Price who shot the puck over the glass. The NHL’s number one power play finally converted on their 1st PP of the period and their 3rd man advantage of the night at 3:27. Price had no chance to stop the puck as Ryan Kesler was screening Carey when Henrik Sedin took a wrist shot beating Price for his 15th of the season.
Shift by shift, the Canucks continued to build momentum as they bombarded Price with shots. The ‘Nucks good cycling of the puck led to a lot of time spent in the defensive zone for the Habs as they only had one shot on Luongo up until the 9:24 mark of the period. With a Wiz slap in along the boards, Andrei got to the puck first and handed it to Lars Eller. Lars held onto the puck until Andrei was in the right position to get a shot while driving towards the net. Eller and Kostitsyn were in perfect sync and gave the Habs a much needed two goal lead. It was Kostitsyn’s 14th of the year, snapping a 12-game scoring drought. The goal made the Canucks fans quiet and sent the Habs fans into a frenzy which killed off the momentum that was being built by the Canucks for a short period.
The Habs put themselves in trouble late in the period as they were called for two penalties, for a 5-on-3 power play for the Canucks in the final 37 seconds of the period. The PK unit for the Habs did an excellent job not giving their opponents time and space to set up and shoot. Both Sedins missed the net during that span. In the dying seconds, Price made a brilliant play by poke checking the puck behind the net to kill time as the Habs couldn’t gain control of the puck. Price had a busy period stopping 13 of the 14 shots he faced while the Canadiens were held to just four shots.
To open the third period, Jeff Halpern was still serving his hooking penalty received in the dying seconds of the second period. Once again, Ryan Kesler had his big body present in front of Price’s view to allow Mikael Samuelsson to beat Price with a point shot.
It was looking like the 24th rank team when leading after two would get themselves into a sticky situation once again. Luckily, Alex Burrows was called for high sticking at 2:07 of the period. Jacques Martin was seen breathing a sigh of relief after the call and trying to get his players pumped up. The Habs got two of their five shots of the 3rd period on that power play but couldn’t beat Luongo. Gomez had the biggest chance of the game with a wide open cage but his slap shot was far from the target.
It was all textbook play for the rest of the period for JM’s squad, trying to preserve the one goal lead. With a little over two minutes remaining, Price made a huge save on Burrows who deflected a Hamhuis shot after Hal Gill was caught out of position. Another game stopping save was made by Price with his blocker on Samuelsson.
With 39 seconds remaining, Hal Gill made a heroic play which might have saved the Canadiens. One of the Sedin was about to cancel out the icing call but Gill made a last second diving play to get to the puck first. Daniel Sedin had a final shot from 43 feets to even the score at the last second but his shot went wide. The Canadiens surrounded Price for his 37 save performance including 12 saves on the number one power play team for a big win in the west coast. It was also his first win in his home province in front of his friends and family.
With the win, the Habs sit comfortably on the 6th spot with 71 points. They have a three point lead on the Rangers and they are four points behind the Bruins for the Division lead.
The Habs will welcome the Toronto Maple Leafs for a rare Thursday night visit at the Bell Center at 7:30 EST.
HiD Three Stars
- Carey Price
- Ryan Kesler
- Hal Gill
HiD Turning Point
Price's poise in the final 50 minutes of the game