With Montreal having an uneventful trade day yesterday, the Habs got ready for a showdown with the struggling Atlanta Thrashers. Early in the period Dustin Byfuglien coughed up the puck on the Habs blue line allowing Michael Cammalleri to head the other way. Byfuglien made up for his turnover however when his good hustle on the back check was enough to prevent Cammalleri from taking a shot. At 1:34, Montreal got caught for too many men on the ice sending Atlanta to the power play. The Habs did a nice job of killing the penalty with Carey Price only having to make one save near the end of the kill.
A little later, Paul Mara made his presence felt when he levelled a Thrasher on the Atlanta blue line. This allowed David Desharnais to skate in close on Chris Mason for Montreal’s first good scoring chance. Desharnais lost the puck during the sequence after being slashed by Mark Stuart putting the Habs up by a man. Montreal’s best chance came when Max Pacioretty found Scott Gomez all alone to the left of Mason. Gomez managed to take a shot but Mason was quick to put his pad down to take away a sure goal. After the kill Atlanta got a chance of their own when Evader Kane took a shot on goal. Price made the save but made an even bigger save on Nik Antropov who had jumped on the rebound in close.
At 9:18, Tomas Plekanec got called for interference giving Atlanta their second power play of the period. The Habs killed this one off as well only allowing a couple of point shots to Tobias Enstrom and Byfuglien. A few minutes later Montreal started to apply pressure in the Thrashers zone. This led to the puck squirting loose to Pacioretty near the blue line. Patches took a quick shot that deflected off of Kane’s stick in front and beat Mason proving that shooting the puck is never a bad play. Kane tried to make up for the goal at the other end when he kept moving from left to right behind Price’s net. Kane finally stopped his mini track meet and attempted to fool Price with a wrap around that did not work. At the very end of the period with the buzzer going off, Roman Hamrlik decided to take a weak shot towards the net. Anthony Stewart took exception to this and cross checked Hamrlik from behind giving the Habs a power play to start the second.
It only took 34 seconds for Montreal to take advantage of the fresh ice and score a power play goal. The play started when Desharnais attempted to make a cross crease pass that deflected to Andrei Kostitsyn in front. Kostitsyn managed to redirect it to James Wisniewski who was posted to the right of Mason and he made no mistake in putting it in the back of the net. After the goal Enstrom took a point shot that Price hung on to with two thrashers barrelling down on him. At 1:59, the Habs took a too many men on the ice penalty for the second time in the game. It should be noted that Montreal leads the league in taking this penalty, something that Jacques Martin should write down in his notebook.
The Habs did another nice job of killing the penalty off but Atlanta gained all of the momentum and kept coming. Price had to be sharp when he stopped a Byfuglien point shot followed by a save on Chris Thorburn from in close. The trend continued; when Tim Stapleton broke in on a partial break away prompting another Price save. Price kept being sharp as he made two more stops on Stewart and Antropov respectively. Price then received a little bit of bad luck when he attempted to bat the puck out of the air and send it behind his net. The puck did go behind his net but it went way to high causing a delay of game penalty. Atlanta once again failed to capitalize on their power play but continued to press in Montreal’s zone.
After multiple saves by Price and multiple blocked shots by his teammates the Habs finally exited their zone when Pacioretty headed on a breakaway. Pacioretty did not get to take advantage of this play but did draw a hooking call giving his team a chance to control the puck at the other end. This power play only lasted 30 seconds however, when Kostitsyn got called for a hooking penalty of his own. With all of the penalties now expired, Montreal finally started to apply some sustained pressure in Atlanta’s zone but failed to get a shot on goal. On the next shift, Wisniewski tried to skate in all alone but was hooked down on the play. Just like the previous Montreal power play, this one was short lived as well when Plekanec got called for tripping 16 seconds in.
The Habs got the best chance on the 4 on 4, when Brian Gionta made a nice backhand pass to Hamrlik. Hamrlik got the shot off quickly but was met with a big save by Mason. With Montreal still in Atlanta’s zone, Byfuglien nailed Gionta with a high stick putting the Habs back up by a man. Montreal continued to control play in the dying minutes of the period and Cammalleri had the best scoring chance when he kicked the puck to his stick and missed an empty cage from close range. Atlanta led in the shots department, outshooting Montreal 25-13 but they were down by two after two.
Early in the third Hamrlik coughed up the puck along his blue line to a streaking Kane. Kane skated in on Price but lost the puck in the process ending the threat. At the other end Gionta was stopped in close on a Montreal 3 on 2. Atlanta then went back on the attack and started to pepper Price with shots. First Price made back to back saves on Stewart followed by a big point shot save on Byfuglien. After stopping more shots and frustrating Kane, Price watched his team finally exit the zone. Desharnais was the man to get it out causing a turnover and then feeding the puck to Benoit Pouliot. Mason made the save on Pouliot and then followed it up with another save on Plekanec.
The back and forth continued with Atlanta receiving most of the chances until Pacioretty put on the jets for another breakaway. Patches cruising in on Mason made all of the right moves to beat the goalie but just missed the top corner for another close call. As is usually the case Atlanta answered right away when Stewart made a nice pass to Antropov who then tipped the puck past Price spoiling his shutout bid. Atlanta regained all of the momentum after the goal and pressed for the tying goal. The Thrashers kept hemming the Habs in their zone with Enstrom getting the best chance from a point shot with traffic in front.
With Mason now on the bench for the extra man, Price continued to shine and Montreal finally got the puck out of their zone. Gionta saw that Gomez's clear was attainable and started to sprint towards the loose puck. He managed to beat the Thrashers' skater to the puck and popped in the empty netter to put his team back up by two. Atlanta pulled Mason again with about 30 seconds to go but the Habs hung on to take this one by a score of 3 to 1 winning a game that they hardly skated in. Montreal will take the two points and head to Florida.
HiD Three Stars
- Carey Price
- Max Pacioretty
- Evander Kane
HiD Turning Point
Price making multiple saves while his team sat back on their heels.