MONTREAL – The Montreal Canadiens have given the Ottawa Senators trouble all season, and this time they prevented their divisional rivals from making a significant statement.
David Desharnais scored in regulation and in the shootout while Carey Price became the first goalie this season to stop Daniel Alfredsson in the tiebreaker to ice a 3-2 Canadiens' win Wednesday night against the Sens at the Bell Centre.
The Senators squandered an opportunity to match the Northeast Division-leading Boston Bruins in points, though they could not have taken over the division lead because Boston holds two games in hand.
The Senators were not giving much importance to that chance prior to the game, with coach Paul MacLean saying, "At the end of 82 games it will be significant, but for a day it won't help us or hurt us."
And MacLean was signing the same tune after the shootout loss as well.
"No, not at all," MacLean said when he was asked if he considered this a lost opportunity. "We have 11 more games to play and they had games in hand. We'll play the 82 and then see where we are."
The last-place Canadiens ran their record this season against the Senators to 3-0-1 with another game looming Friday night in Ottawa.
"For the most part, this team doesn't bring the best out of us for some reason. But we have another opportunity on Friday to find a solution," MacLean said. "We don't seem to be able to skate the way we're skating when we're successful. For whatever reason, we don't skate very well against this team."
Erik Cole also scored in regulation for the Canadiens (28-32-11), who won on home ice for just the second time in seven tries (2-4-1) and have now won three of four games overall.
But it was Cole's celebration of his goal that was the subject of all the chatter in the Canadiens' room afterwards.
As Cole skated around the Senators' net after beating Ottawa goalie Ben Bishop on a rebound of his own shot, he surprised referee Greg Kimmerly by giving him a high-five as he skated by, slapping the hand that was signaling the goal and giving Kimmerly a sly grin afterwards. (WATCH)
"He was the only one there, so I had to celebrate with someone," Cole said. "I told him I was sorry afterwards."
The shootout win for the Canadiens was their third in a row after going just 2-8 in their first 10 tries this season.
"The funny thing is we haven't been practicing it either," said Price, who made 35 saves in regulation. "I don't know if it's confidence or what, but our team seems to be doing well in them."
After Desharnais scored on a nice move to beat Bishop through the five-hole as Montreal's second shooter, Price made a nice diving poke check save on Jason Spezza and Canadiens coach Randy Cunneyworth gave defenseman Andrei Markov a chance to clinch the win in his first home game in 16 months.
But with the Bell Centre roaring to encourage him Markov could not beat Bishop's glove hand.
"Our fans are the best in the world," Markov said of the reception he received in his home return. "I always enjoy playing here, as soon as I step on the ice it’s an unbelievable feeling."
Alfredsson had a chance to tie it as Ottawa's final shooter, and his odds were pretty good considering the Sens captain came into the game 5-for-5 in the shootout this season. But Price denied him to seal the win.
"I didn't know that," Price said of Alfredsson's perfect record. "If I did, he probably would have scored."
Ottawa's Erik Karlsson scored his 19th goal of the season to tie the game in regulation and also tie Steve Duchesne's franchise record for goals by a defenseman. Karlsson has scored 11 of those goals in his last 14 games, adding 11 assists over that span to run his season point total to an even 70.
Colin Greening also scored for the Senators (36-25-10), who lost their second straight shootout.
It was Markov's first game at Bell Centre since he tore the ACL in his right knee on this same ice surface Nov. 13, 2010. Markov was not in the starting lineup and did not get a shift until the game was more than two minutes old, but he received a nice round of applause when he handled the puck on his first few shifts of the game.
Alfredsson mentioned prior to the game that the Senators had "more to play for" than the Canadiens and that he was hopeful the meaningfulness of the game for Ottawa would give his team an edge.
The high-scoring Senators appeared to play down to the Canadiens' level, rarely testing Price with quality scoring chances even though they led in the shot department the whole game, finishing with a 37-26 edge.
On the other hand, perhaps it was the Canadiens who raised their game against a quality opponent they have played tough all season.
"To contain Spezza, Alfredsson, (Milan) Michalek and players of that nature, these guys are very in tune with each other and how they move around the ice and move that puck, they're very difficult to handle," Cunneyworth said. "I thought for the most part, we did a good job."
Missing veteran defenseman Tomas Kaberle, whose girlfriend Julia gave birth to the couple's first child Wednesday morning in Toronto, and center Scott Gomez who suffered a suspected concussion, the Canadiens managed to bottle up the high-scoring Senators.
And for their own offense, the Canadiens relied on the one source of goals that has produced all season – their first line of Cole, Desharnais and Max Pacioretty.
Cole got Montreal on the board at 13:45 of the first period when he tapped home the rebound of his own shot for his 27th goal of the season, surpassing his total of 26 in 82 games last season.
The Senators tied it before the Canadiens' fans could even sit down when Greening scored his 14th just 26 seconds later.
Price admitted that goal kind of ruined the levity Cole's moment with Kimmerly provided.
"That was hilarious," Price said. "But I wasn't laughing for very long because they scored right after that."
The second period was scoreless and largely eventless, though Bishop was forced into a tough save on Rene Bourque in tight at 7:01 to keep the game tied.
Desharnais gave the Canadiens a 2-1 lead 24 seconds into the third period, tipping a P.K. Subban shot past Bishop for his 16th of the season and his fifth in his last eight games. Despite standing just 5-foot-7, Desharnais once again managed to get into the so called "dirty area" to make a play, something he's done with great regularity all season.
"I'm just hiding in the corner," he said, "and at the right time, I go to the net."
The Senators tied it again at 11:01 on Karlsson's goal, a seemingly harmless wrist shot that squeezed through Price's glove and his leg to beat him.