MONTREAL -- Conventional wisdom would dictate that the NHL All-Star break could not be coming at a worse time for the Montreal Canadiens after a stunning 7-2 win Wednesday night over the League-leading Detroit Red Wings.
Not so, says Canadiens goaltender and lone All-Star Carey Price.
"It's definitely nice to go into the break on a high note and maybe dwell on it for a couple of days, because we haven't had a whole lot of good to dwell on this year," Price said after his 25-save performance was largely an afterthought for one of the few times this season. "So maybe we can sit on that for a little while, but when we come back we know we have to get back to work."
With the Canadiens sitting 24th in the NHL entering the game against a Red Wings team that had ridden a seven-game win streak to the top of the League standings, few rational people could have given the Habs much of a chance even though Detroit was missing its flu-stricken captain Nicklas Lidstrom for the first time in nearly three years.
According to Price, it was that very disparity between the two clubs that may have coaxed the best out of the Canadiens.
"When you're faced against a real strong opponent I think you're playing nervous, so you know if you don't play your best you're probably going to get shelled," Price said. "They probably scare you a little bit – scare you into really focusing and getting really prepared."
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock was asked Wednesday morning whether there was any risk of his powerhouse club taking the Habs lightly.
His response was that he hoped not, except that is seemingly what happened as the Canadiens scored four goals on their first 11 shots on All-Star Jimmy Howard, sending the NHL into the All-Star break with a shocker of a result.
After Howard was lifted during the first intermission, Ty Conklin came in and allowed goals on the first two shots he faced as the Red Wings (33-16-1) saw their long winning run emphatically snapped.
"I'm not going to look at video on this at all. I'm going to go have a drink, actually, is what I'm going to do," Babcock said afterwards. "We were awful; I don't know what else to tell you. We were that bad, but the night's over with, and thank God. The clock couldn't run fast enough. Let's move on."
Rookie defenseman Alexei Emelin scored his first NHL goal, David Desharnais added two more and Rene Bourque, Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty also scored by the 4:18 mark of the second period for the Canadiens (19-21-9), who won their second straight game and now have earned points in five of the last six (3-1-2).
Jiri Hudler scored two third period goals for the Red Wings and Erik Cole added another one with 1:23 to play in regulation for the Canadiens.
"You want to be able to carry positives from one game to the next," Cole said. "I thought tonight our start, our compete and more importantly our execution was right where it needed to be."
The Canadiens-Red Wings game was the only one on the League schedule, giving the two teams a national stage. And given the way this Canadiens season has gone, the game could very well provide the confidence boost they need to make a final, desperate push for the final playoff spot that still sits eight points away.
"We want to remember a lot of (this game)," coach Randy Cunneyworth said. "It's crucial that we pick up where we left off and continue, no matter who we're playing, to play the right way. If we do that, then we'll be rewarded."
The Red Wings were missing Lidstrom for the first time since April 12, 2009, a span of 213 games. Perhaps that could explain why the Wings appeared to be already looking forward to the All-Star break with the way they started the game, but defenseman Niklas Kronwall was having none of it.
"There are no excuses whatsoever. We weren't there whatsoever," said Kronwall, who played a team-high 24:22 in Lidstrom’s absence. "They played solid, but I thought a lot of the things that happened were freebies. Our defensive zone coverage today was nowhere to be found."
It was that very lack of defensive awareness that allowed Bourque to open the scoring at 5:08 of the first – his second in as many games – and the Canadiens never looked back.
Emelin followed with a point shot that got through a crowd thanks to the rookie patiently waiting for a shooting lane to open at 10:56, then Desharnais got his first of the night on a partial break at 17:58 and Plekanec scored with 26.7 seconds to play in the first off a rebound that Howard was extremely slow to react on.
The four-goal first set a new season high for the Red Wings for goals allowed in a period.
"I think everyone in here was embarrassed with the performance tonight," Kronwall said. "We've got to look ahead with a few days off, come back refreshed and get ready to go again. But the way we played tonight, that just can’t happen."
With Conklin in to start the second, Pacioretty scored on a rebound off the end boards at 1:52 on the Habs first shot of the period, and Desharnais got his second of the night and ninth of the season when he banked one in off Conklin’s arm on a power play on Montreal’s second shot of the period.
Hudler snapped Price's shutout bid just 21 seconds into the third when he stepped around Scott Gomez and wired a snap shot into the top corner. He added his 15th of the season at 6:07 when he was left alone on the doorstep to tap a rebound into an empty net, but Cole scored his team-leading 19th of the season at 18:37 of the third to round out the scoring.
Amid the jubilation of the Canadiens big victory was another chapter in the drama surrounding Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban and his relationship with Cunneyworth's coaching staff. After he took a careless elbowing penalty on Danny Cleary to negate a Habs power play at 16:30 of the first period, he was not given another shift until the start of the third period.
"Generally speaking, we have to be more disciplined," Cunneyworth said. "We're on a power play and we can't be reacting like that. He had Cleary beat and then turned back into him, and that's why the collision occurred. Beyond that, it's about discipline and doing the right things at the right time. He's not the only one … we've had other instances where we have to be more disciplined."
Subban's teammates were nearly unanimous in their support of their coach's decision to sit Subban down.
"It was a good opportunity for the coaching staff to send a message," Cole said. "We had the luxury of a four-goal lead and you can't have the selfish and undisciplined penalties that have been happening. Especially when we come back from the break, it's going to be real important … you're going to take a punch to the head or somebody's going to take a run at you and you just have to brush it off and continue to focus on the task at hand. It was a good message to be sent at a good time."
But overall, after being booed off the ice so often this season at the Bell Centre, the Canadiens fans stood and applauded their team's effort over the final minute of play. It is a reaction the Canadiens hope they can trigger far more often upon their return from the break.