WINNIPEG – Michael Cammalleri only lasted part of the first period for the Montreal Canadiens, but it was long enough to – somewhat -- spoil the party for the Winnipeg Jets and their fans.
Cammalleri delivered his first goal of the season on Montreal's second shot of the game Sunday afternoon before departing late in the opening period with an apparent leg injury.
Cammalleri's goal provided the Canadiens a lead that they never relinquished in a 5-1 win over the Jets. Montreal goaltender Carey Price's 30-save effort earned him second-star honors to steal some of the spotlight from Winnipeg's long-anticipated afternoon that marked the NHL's regular-season return to the city for the first time since 1996.
Only Nik Antropov's third-period goal dented Price.
"For the personal side," Antropov said of scoring the first goal for the new Winnipeg Jets, "it was great, but it doesn't really matter for me. It's a team game, and we were going out there for two points, and we didn't. We came [up] short, so it's kind of a disappointment."
The Canadiens ventured into the cozy MTS Centre up against a rabidly pro-Jets crowd that cheered nearly every moment from the time the teams took the ice for warm-up. Fans screamed the city's ubiquitous "Go Jets Go" chant at every opportunity leading into the team's pre-game introduction, a somber tribute to the late Rick Rypien and the Canadian national anthem.
Those cheers would continue until Cammalleri opened the afternoon's scoring at 3:05. Cammalleri intercepted Winnipeg defenseman Johnny Oduya's outlet post along the right boards, walked in and lasered a shot under the cross bar for his first goal of the season.
Winnipeg played a very tentative opening period, managing just one shot in the opening 14:33. When Price was called upon, he delivered, snagging Antropov's low drive on a partial breakaway midway through a Winnipeg power play.
"It was special to welcome the Jets back to the League," Price said of the game's historic nature. "It was very exciting for everybody here."
Price's work impressed Jets coach Claude Noel.
"I thought we had some good scoring chances," Noel said. "I thought their goalie was good. I thought if he gave up any rebounds he was right on top of the second and third shots. I would like to see us get a better handle on second and third shots and they were there -- we just weren't able to get to them."
Montreal is quite familiar with rambunctious arena environments, and the Canadiens' quick start pleased coach Jacques Martin
"We just wanted to have a strong start and get the fans out of it," Martin said.
Five Canadiens – Cammalleri, Tomas Plekanec, Yannick Weber, Travis Moen and Max Pacioretty -- scored their first goals of the season, and the all-around effort perhaps alleviated some of the worries created by the injuries to Cammalleri and defenseman Jaroslav Spacek, who also did not return after a first-period injury. The Canadiens will further evaluate both players' injuries in Montreal on Monday. Early indications were Cammelleri could miss two weeks.
"Carey gave us a strong game," Martin said. "We need top netminding. Everybody us gave us a little more. I think it is important to distribute our scoring. We need to have more depth in the scoring department, and hopefully that will continue."
Cammalleri departed play late in the first period after falling awkwardly off a face-off in the Montreal defensive zone. Yannick Weber's skate clipped Cammalleri's leg, sending the Canadiens forward to the bench and then the Montreal dressing room.
Montreal fell into penalty trouble and took three minor penalties in a span of 4:33 that bridged the first and second periods. Between the strain placed on the Montreal penalty-killing units and the losses of Cammalleri and Spacek, the Jets managed to threaten Price with several opportunities. But an inability to finish and penalty trouble of its own stalled Winnipeg.
"We were just sloppy I think is the best way to describe it," Winnipeg captain Andrew Ladd said. "It seemed like the puck was jumpy, and we were trying to do too much, and with a team like that with skilled forwards, they can make you pay."
Montreal would lean heavily on its special-teams play all game, killing off all eight Winnipeg man-advantage opportunities and using a third-period power play goal to end a late Jets rally.
Ondrej Pavelec delivered stellar work of his own in the early going. Weber cranked a second-period left-point rising shot through heavy traffic that Pavelec managed to steer out of play to hold the Montreal lead at one goal.
Montreal built on its lead late in the second period moments after killing off another Winnipeg power play. Plekanec wrangled a bouncing puck from Oduya at the Winnipeg blue line before scooting in alone on Pavelec and snapping a shot under the cross bar at 14:17.
Winnipeg finally cracked Price early in the third period with the Canadiens scrambling to get a whistle after a delayed-penalty call. Mark Stuart zipped a point shot through a maze of players, and Antropov at the far post shoved the loose rebound under Price at 2:27. Antropov's goal cut the Montreal lead to 2-1, but the Jets wouldn't threaten again.
Weber put away the pesky during four-on-three play early in the third period. Twenty-three seconds after a Dustin Byfuglien minor penalty put the Jets a man down, Weber planted a low shot past Pavelec from inside the left circle.
Moen broke loose from a pack of Jets, and slipped the puck through Pavelec's pads at 10:31 before Pacioretty finished the afternoon's scoring at 12:33.