With three regular forwards out of the starting lineup and facing the prospect of a three-game losing streak, Montreal benefited from a goal and an assist from Brian Gionta, timely goaltending from Carey Price and a Josh Gorges winner with 3:15 left in overtime to continue its mastery of Phoenix with a 3-2 win Thursday at Jobing.com Arena.
"We're missing guys and we have guys in the room who are battling through some stuff, but there is a lot of character in this dressing room and we understand what's at stake," said Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban, who was a plus-3 for the game. "These points are huge and it's a big win. It was good to see Gorges stand up and get the two points for the boys."
Gionta filled up the stat line during the second period, scoring his fourth goal early before setting up Travis Moen late in the period. The goals wiped out Mikkel Boedker's first-period tally, and Price helped preserve the lead during a second period in which he faced 17 shots.
"It was a good tempo and both sides were getting chances," said Price, now 6-6-2 on the season with a 2.50 goals-against average. "It's nice to finally be on the other of one of those. We've got guys (who can score) but we need other guys to chip in."
None of the present Canadiens were around when Phoenix last beat Montreal, way back during the Bill Clinton administration (Dec. 9, 1998) when Jimmy Waite made 19 saves in a 4-2 win at what was then America West Arena. For this contest, several of the present-day Habs outfit – Mike Cammalleri, Scott Gomez and Andrei Kostitsyn – were all out with injuries, but that didn't keep Montreal from improving to 11-0-2 in its last 13 meetings with the Coyotes. Phoenix had four practice days at home to prepare but still failed to meet the effort standards of coach Dave Tippett.
Playing without first-choice center Daymond Langkow, who was absent due to a death in the family, Phoenix got goals from the third line – Boedker – and the fourth line, in the form of Raffi Torres' game-tying tally in the third. The top two lines struggled, however, and were juggled as Tippett searched for some energy.
"They were missing a couple of their top guys and they came out and worked hard," Tippett said. "We didn't work as hard as them, so that's probably the way it should end up."
Down 2-1 the third, the Coyotes forced overtime when Torres, who hit the post in the second period with a rebound try, converted as he pitchforked a Keith Yandle rebound past Price at 5:50 for his third goal of the season.
"We came out with a quick goal but we didn't build on it," Torres said. "I think our compete level has to rise up. Had we been more physical, we would have been able to take the game away more."
Yannick Weber had a golden chance to end the game for Montreal but hit the crossbar early in overtime. On the next shift, Gorges recovered from a hit along the boards by Martin Hanzal to gobble up Oliver Ekman-Larrson's clearing attempt and beat Phoenix goalie Mike Smith.
"It always feels good to get a win, and to get an overtime winner is a thrill," Gorges said. "We needed it. We've been playing good hockey the last few games. I thought we deserved a better fate and we didn't get it."
Smith played well for Phoenix in this loss and made eight of his 34 saves during a first-period Montreal power-play onslaught. Despite the loss, the Coyotes head into a season-long, five-game road trip with points in seven of their last eight games (5-1-2).
Phoenix, 6-0-3 when scoring first this season, opened the scoring when new Coyote Cal O'Reilly made a pair of pretty passes from behind the net to Boedker. Price stopped the first one, but Boedker punched the second one past Price's pad and inside the left post for his second goal.
"I've been snake-bit, but that happens," Boedker said. "It was important for myself to gain a little confidence, but I'd rather see the team win."
Montreal outshot Phoenix 16-7 in the first period and got even by catching a Coyote napping. From behind the net, Gionta slipped behind Boyd Gordon at the left post and, in one motion, swiped the puck and swept it past Smith at 3:28 for the unassisted goal.
The Coyotes regained control of the play during a 17-shot period, but Torres hit a post while Price made several big saves, most notably on Taylor Pyatt and Derek Morris to keep Montreal even. Gionta then carried a puck down the right side and ripped a centering pass to the trailing Moen for his fifth goal at 17:46 to give the Canadiens their first lead of the night.
1 - 0 PHX
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 MTL