MONTREAL – Mike Ribeiro candidly admitted earlier Tuesday that his first regular- season game as a visitor in his home town was not just another game, how he hoped he wasn't booed and how badly he wanted to get a goal.
A few hours later, just about everything Ribeiro could have wanted came to pass, including a big 3-0 win for his Dallas Stars over the Montreal Canadiens.
Ribeiro got his goal – though he was booed for scoring it – and was cheered after the fans voted him the game's first star, allowing him to ham it up a little as he came out for his twirl and acknowledged the applause.
"I didn't know what to expect, a lot of players who came back when I played here, the people used to boo them," Ribeiro said. "I wasn't sure for today, but the fans have always been behind me. It was kind of nice and surprising and a little emotional after the first star, so I decided to salute them and say thank you in my way to them."
Both the Stars and the Canadiens were in desperate need of a victory, but the Stars were the only ones who showed it.
"Hopefully we see what we did here today and see how we're supposed to play," Ribeiro said. "We rolled four lines and everyone played well as a team. We need 20 guys, and tonight we had 20."
Kari Lehtonen made 31 saves, Ryan Garbutt scored his first NHL goal in his third game and Tom Wandell also scored for the Stars (30-26-4), who clinched their 15th straight 30-win season, the fifth-longest streak in the NHL.
The Stars entered the game three points behind both the eighth-place Calgary Flames and ninth-place Los Angeles Kings, but they are now just two points out of eighth place after the Kings lost in a shootout to Phoenix and they are one point behind the ninth-place Flames, who lost to Edmonton.
The Stars now head to Chicago to face the Blackhawks in yet another crucial game.
"We have two games on this little road trip here and we wanted to set it off on a good note, so for us to come in here and play the game that we did, it's pretty good to see what we can do when everyone plays together and we do everything right," said Michael Ryder, another former member of the Canadiens who enjoyed the win. "Now we go to Chicago and it will be another tough game, so we'll have to play the same way we did tonight."
Stars forward Loui Eriksson played a regular shift after flying to Montreal on Tuesday morning so he could be in Dallas for the birth of his second daughter on Monday.
"It went really easy. We had the baby yesterday at 9:44 (a.m.) and it went really fast, so we had the whole day there," said Eriksson, who took an early morning flight to arrive in Montreal at around noon and still logged 20:41 of ice time. "It's always fun to be there for her. But we know what position we are in now in the playoff race, so I wanted to get here and play. I thought we played real well today and we picked up the two points, so that's good."
Not much went right for the Canadiens (24-27-10), who are 1-3-1 in their last five games after a four-game winning streak briefly revived their own playoff hopes. The Buffalo Sabres 2-1 win against the New York Islanders moved them past the Canadiens in the Eastern Conference standings, leaving the Habs in 14th place and one point up on last-place Carolina.
"You look at the standings, it's not very far to the bottom, but it's not very far up either," Canadiens center Lars Eller said. "We're staying in it and tomorrow we start focusing on the next game. That's how it is."
It was Montreal's last home game until March 1, two days after the NHL trade deadline, and given their place in the standings it's possible it was also the final game at Bell Centre in a Canadiens uniform for some of these players as general manager Pierre Gauthier may be inclined to go into sell mode between now and Monday.
And their last vision of the usually raucous Bell Centre was a half empty arena, with the fans who remained booing the home club as the final buzzer sounded.
And Eller doesn't blame them.
"If I could tell you one or two things that are wrong ... it's not easy to fix what's wrong right now because it's a lot of things," he said. "It starts with every individual. We've been here I don't know how many times before, at home after a loss and we played awful. It's the same thing over and over again. I don't have anything new to say because we've seen it too many times."
The Canadiens played without center Tomas Plekanec, who was a last-minute scratch with a virus. Montreal coach Randy Cunneyworth said after the game there were eight players who were "under the weather," but added that it's "no excuse."
Ribeiro, who was born and raised in Montreal and played the first four seasons of his NHL career with the Canadiens, had not played a game here since his trade to the Stars on Sept. 30, 2006. He was injured for the Stars only visit to Montreal since that time.
"I'm coming back to Montreal in front of my friends and people I grew up with," Ribeiro said prior to the game, "so I'll try to play well and I'll try to score tonight."
He did just that at 4:32 of the third period, converting a brilliant feed from Trevor Daley into a yawning cage as Carey Price was unable to recover in time, scoring his 13th of the year and gesturing with his hands for the crowd to make some noise as they booed the native son's goal.
The goal gave the Stars a 2-0 lead in a game where the Canadiens struggled to find any cohesiveness offensively, even though Dallas handed them four straight power play opportunities in the second period.
"It's always nice when (the penalty kill) works," Lehtonen said. "I gave a couple of rebounds and our guys were able to clear them and there were a couple of huge blocks from our defensemen."
A Price giveaway on a clearing attempt led to Wandell's goal just 37 seconds after Ribeiro's, with his weak wrist shot from the slot handcuffing the Canadiens goaltender for Wandell's fourth of the season at 5:09 to make it 3-0.
The Canadiens had talked about the importance of improving their starts to games after going nearly 18 minutes between shots on goal in the first period of a 3-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Sunday night. But it took Montreal more than eight minutes to test Lehtonen in this one, and that came on a shot from neutral zone by Alexei Emelin, drawing derisive cheers from the Canadiens faithful.
"There's a good team on the other side of the ice that's trying to do the same thing as us, and they did it way better today than we did," Eller said when asked to address the team's poor start to the game. "Dallas was a better team. I can't stand here and make a deeper analysis than that because that's how simple it is. Dallas was a better team than we were, all the way through."
Garbutt is a 26-year-old Winnipeg native who took a long road to the NHL from Brown University, through the Central Hockey League, the ECHL and the AHL. He got his first goal in the big league after that long journey when he took a pass from Jake Dowell from behind the net and one-timed a rifle top shelf on Price at 14:12 of the first period.
"You have to get a good opportunity, and you have to take advantage of it when you get it," said Garbutt, who will frame the puck that was tracked down for him by defenseman Philip Larsen. "I played in college for four years and got my degree, and this is my third year pro. So it's been a decent road. It hasn't been that long."