MONTREAL – Roberto Luongo has not enjoyed a good run of professional starts in his hometown, and it looked as if history would repeat itself Thursday night.
To rewrite the books, Luongo stood tall and benefited from the help of some very resilient Vancouver Canucks teammates.
Luongo shook off a rough start to win for the first time in four games in Montreal, backstopping the Canucks to a 4-3, come-from-behind shootout victory over the Canadiens to continue their torrid streak.
Luongo allowed three goals on the first nine shots he faced to spot the Canadiens a 3-0 lead at the 2:20 mark of the second period, but he stopped the final 14 shots he saw plus all three in the shootout, allowing Mason Raymond, Cody Hodgson and Sami Salo to bring the Canucks back and Hodgson to win it as the lone scorer in the shootout.
"It was frustrating for me to give up that (third) goal," Luongo said of Erik Cole's five-hole shot that should have been stopped. "I think he was trying to go upstairs and he kind of missed it and made me look bad on it. But I was able to make a good save right afterwards and it was able to get me back in the game."
That save was a one-timer try by Canadiens captain Brian Gionta on a 2-on-1 break, one that had Luongo looking behind him to make sure the puck didn't squeak through. But he made a number of big stops from then on, none bigger than a save on a Max Pacioretty one-timer with less than two minutes to play in overtime that got the Canucks to the shootout.
"My first shootout of the year I got scored on both shots and the game was over," Luongo said. "This time around I made a big save on the first one and that gave me confidence for the other two."
The Canucks (17-10-1) are 8-1-0 in their last nine games -- and after beginning the season in a 6-7-1 funk, they are 11-3-0 and have outscored their opponents 54-28 over that span.
"We continued to play hard and the way that we know how," Raymond said. "When we play that way we're successful."
Down 3-0 in the second period, Raymond scored shorthanded for his first goal of the season at 8:37 in his third game since his return from a frightening broken vertebra suffered in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final last June.
"It's obviously a nice token to get going and scoring a few goals," Raymond said. "I am pleased with where I'm at considering where I was at and what I've been through. I'm getting some good minutes and I tried to use that to my advantage."
Hodgson scored his sixth of the season at 4:24 of the third to make it a 3-2 game.
An offensive zone penalty by Canadiens center Lars Eller at 14:40 of the third period allowed the Canucks top-ranked power play to take the ice, and they took advantage when Salo rifled his sixth of the season past a helpless Carey Price on a one-timer from the point at 15:20.
"He wants to battle so I wouldn't blame him for that," said Canadiens center Tomas Plekanec. "We killed a 5-on-3 before (in the first period), but they have good players and they have a good power play. So when you give them the chance they'll probably score."
Frederic St-Denis scored his first NHL goal while Cole and Raphael Diaz also scored for the Canadiens (11-11-7), who have just one win in seven games (1-2-4), losing three times in the shootout in that span.
"I'm really desperate," Price said. "I don't like to see us in 11th spot (in the Eastern Conference), that's not where the Habs should be. We should be top eight. But at least we're picking up points, I guess you could say that. But singles aren't helping us right now."
Luongo wasn't the only goalie playing against his boyhood team as Price – a native of Anahim Lake, B.C. – saw his career record against the Canucks fall to 2-1-1 with a 28-save performance. But Price was far more concerned with his team's overall futility right now.
"I don't know what it is, it just seems like we find a way to lose and find a way to give up a lead," he said. "We've got to figure out a way to not let that happen. I don't know what it is, I can't put a finger on it, but it seems like it's happening every game and we have to stop it."
While the Canucks were coming off their most lopsided victory of the season, a 6-0 pasting of Colorado on Tuesday, the Canadiens were coming off what may have been their worst effort of the season in a 3-2 shootout loss to the last-place Columbus Blue Jackets the same night.
Few in the city gave Montreal much of a chance to beat the mighty Canucks but the Canadiens managed to jump out to a big lead with a bit of help from Luongo.
On Montreal's first goal, St-Denis took a shot from the point while Plekanec and Kevin Bieksa were jostling in front of the net. Plekanec appeared to brush Luongo and sent him toppling backwards just as the shot was arriving, but no call was made and the goal was allowed to stand at 4:38 of the first.
The second goal had a very similar scenario, except this time it was Cole battling with Bieksa in front when Diaz's wrist shot from the point went in high on the glove side at 18:52 for the Swiss defenseman's second of the season.
The Canadiens scored again at 2:20 of the second when Cole's wrist shot beat Luongo cleanly for his ninth of the season, setting the stage for Vancouver's dramatic comeback effort.
"Coming from behind is not easy in the NHL," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "Making up two goals in the third is tough, three goals in the game is even tougher. When I heard people starting to chant ‘Na, na, na' at the start of the third, I told myself it might be a good time to get this done."