MONTREAL -- Patrick Roy said Monday he did not want his first game as an NHL coach in Montreal to be about him.
It wasn't. It was about Thomas Vanek.
They were Vanek's first three goals in a Montreal uniform and he took a post-game twirl around the Bell Centre ice as the game's first star while the sellout crowd of 21,273 chanted his name.
"I had the chills," Vanek said, holding the three pucks he scored with in his right hand. "I tried to make it quick so I don't fall and make a fool out of myself."
Vanek definitely did not do that during the game.
He had not scored in his first five games with the Canadiens since his acquisition from the New York Islanders at the NHL Trade Deadline, and after his line with David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty missed a few chances during a first period shift he was seen slamming his stick against the door to the bench in frustration.
That feeling did not last.
Vanek scored Montreal's first goal at 7:44 of the second period, broke a 3-3 tie at 14:45 of the third by completing a tic-tac-toe passing play on a power play, and made it 5-3 on a deflection on another power play at 17:40, which led to the first chants of his name from the crowd.
"I've been doing that since I'm 5 years old," Vanek said of the frustration he showed in the first period. "It's something that I'm trying to get better at. The last little bit here it's been frustrating, not just for myself, because I feel we're so close from putting together a good shift or two and scoring and getting momentum but there was always a little stick or something in the way or a great save.
"So it was nice to get that first one for myself, and even for David and [Pacioretty]. Now we can just kind of relax and continue to get better."
Prior to the game, it was assumed the chants Vanek received would be reserved for Roy. In the past, when a former player returned to face the Canadiens, the team often used television timeouts to show him on the scoreboard and give the fans a chance to react.
In the case of Roy, that moment came briefly during the singing of the "Star-Spangled Banner," and the crowd roared so loud the American national anthem was drowned out as a result.
"I was a little embarrassed," Roy said. "I was looking down and pretending I didn't see it."
But that was it; the puck was dropped and the teams on the ice took over the show, just like Roy wanted.
Except for the result.
"I liked the way they did it," Roy said. "It was subtle, it was perfect. There was a hockey game to be played, there were two very important points on the line for the Canadiens and for us. At the end of the day I wanted the fans to have a good show, and I thought it was a good show."
The one player who might have put on the best show on either team was Avalanche rookie Nathan MacKinnon, who scored his 23rd goal and dazzled the crowd on repeated occasions with his stickhandling and relentlessness in the offensive zone.
Roy gave MacKinnon 20:55 of ice time, the fifth time in seven games the rookie passed the 20-minute mark. He received more than 20 minutes of ice time twice in his first 62 games of the season, and it's looking like the 18-year-old is finding his stride at the perfect time for the Avalanche.
Canadiens coach Michel Therrien was with the Pittsburgh Penguins when both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were beginning their NHL careers at around the same age, and he sees a lot of similarities in what MacKinnon can do.
"Impressed," Therrien said. "Honestly, for an 18-year-old kid? I had the luxury in the past in my career to coach some great athletes at 18 or 19 years old; he's right there.
"He's a special player."
Brandon Prust, Travis Moen and Dale Weise scored for the Canadiens (38-25-7), who have won three straight games to put some distance between themselves and the two teams holding the Stanley Cup Playoff wild-card positions in the Eastern Conference. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets each lost Tuesday; they are three and seven points behind the Canadiens, respectively.
Early on it looked as though the Avalanche were going to run the Canadiens out of their own building, just missing on numerous chances and controlling the play for most of the first period, and it paid off when MacKinnon had a dominant shift toward the end.
The rookie forward controlled the puck with a stickhandling display that kept the Canadiens off balance throughout the shift, helping the Avalanche maintain control in the offensive zone. MacKinnon was rewarded when the puck bounced out in front right on his stick, and he made a quick move to the backhand to beat Carey Price at 18:03.
The Canadiens tied it 1-1 on Vanek's first goal, which came as a result of a play he began with a heady pass to Desharnais on an open wing before cutting to the net. Desharnais entered the zone, drew Avalanche goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere out of position, and threw the puck into the slot where Vanek tapped it in for his 22nd goal of the season.
The Avalanche regained the lead at 9:33 of the second when Matt Duchene found Talbot alone in front of the net for his eighth of the season.
Montreal tied it again 48 seconds later on a spectacular goal by its fourth line. Prust dove to chip a puck into the slot to Moen, who caught it, spun and whipped a backhand inside the near post at 10:21. It was his second goal of the season, first in 43 games.
"I just kind of spun and threw it on net hoping for the best, probably a rebound, but it kind of snuck its way in," Moen said. "I'll take it."
Prust gave the Canadiens their first lead when he one-timed a slap shot from the slot past Giguere at 3:33 of the third period, but McGinn tied it for the Avalanche at 10:05 when he collected his rebound and put a backhand behind Price to make it 3-3.
|Nathan MacKinnon (23) ASST: Paul Stastny (28), Erik Johnson (26)|
1 - 0 COL
|Thomas Vanek (22) ASST: David Desharnais (29)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Maxime Talbot (8) ASST: Matt Duchene (43), Jamie McGinn (14)|
2 - 1 COL
|Travis Moen (2) ASST: Brandon Prust (7), Mike Weaver (7)|
2 - 2 Tie
|Brandon Prust (6) ASST: Andrei Markov (34), Alexei Emelin (9)|
3 - 2 MTL
|Jamie McGinn (18) ASST: Matt Duchene (44), Ryan O'Reilly (31)|
3 - 3 Tie
|PPG - Thomas Vanek (23) ASST: Max Pacioretty (16), David Desharnais (30)|
4 - 3 MTL
|PPG - Thomas Vanek (24) ASST: Alexei Emelin (10), Max Pacioretty (17)|
5 - 3 MTL
|EN - Dale Weise (5) ASST: Tomas Plekanec (20)|
6 - 3 MTL
|Gabriel Landeskog Tripping against Max Pacioretty|
|Thomas Vanek Hooking against Brad Malone|
|Cody McLeod Fighting (maj) against Dale Weise|
|Dale Weise Fighting (maj) against Cody McLeod|
|Max Pacioretty Slashing against Matt Duchene|
|P.K. Subban Interference against Cody McLeod|
|Jean-Sebastien Giguere Holding the stick against Dale Weise|
|Jan Hejda Tripping against Brendan Gallagher|