MONTREAL – The crowd at Bell Centre on Thursday night were treated to a game between two non-playoff teams that was a little too exciting for some people's tastes.
The Montreal Canadiens won a surprisingly intense game 5-4 in a shootout against the Minnesota Wild despite blowing a three-goal lead with fewer than four minutes to play in regulation time.
"It was incredible," said Canadiens center David Desharnais, who had a goal and two assists in regulation and scored the lone goal in the shootout. "If the people wanted a show, tonight was a show, I guess. Thankfully we came out with a win, because there were a lot of things that were pretty pitiful."
The Canadiens had a 4-1 lead 3:53 to play but allowed the Wild to tie it on Devin Setoguchi's goal with 9.8 seconds remaining after Montreal goalie Carey Price committed an egregious giveaway on a clearing attempt that looked as though it may have been an attempt to score into the empty net at the other end of the ice.
Price, however, said he was trying to make a pass on the play and not shoot for the first goal of his career, though he has tried several times before.
"I saw (Tomas Plekanec) right in the middle of the ice there, but it wasn't a very good sauce," Price said. "It bounced over his stick and right to their guy. The rest you saw."
Price made amends for his gaffe after stopping Matt Cullen and Dany Heatley in the shootout while Desharnais scored for Montreal, leaving Setoguchi as the final shooter and setting up a dramatic finish. Except it never happened – Setoguchi lost the puck as he crossed the blue line and fell trying to gather it again, cementing the win for the Canadiens.
"As soon as I took the puck outside it got caught in the ice. Once you stop it's over with anyway, I just decided to do it with a little more flair and fall," Setoguchi said. "It's frustrating. You have a chance to keep the game alive and something like that happens."
The Canadiens (25-30-10) win snapped a five-game losing streak and was also their first win on home ice in five tries as the League's 29th-ranked power play connected for a season-high three goals in a penalty-filled game between two teams who generally meet once a year.
"It's not exactly how we wanted it," coach Randy Cunneyworth said, "but it's a win."
P.K. Subban – who had his only career hat trick against the Wild in Minnesota last season – scored again, and Lars Eller notched his first power play goal in a Canadiens uniform in his 139th game with Montreal.
Max Pacioretty also scored his team-high 26th of the season and set up Desharnais for one.
Desharnais scored for the third straight game and added two assists to reach the 50-point mark, extending his team scoring lead. For a player who went undrafted and made his way to the NHL via the ECHL and AHL because of a severe lack of size, Desharnais' emergence alongside Pacioretty and Erik Cole has been a rare positive in what has been a difficult Canadiens season.
"He plays against anybody, he doesn't care about the size or who it is," Cunneyworth said. "He sees the ice so well and knows who to find and won't do it himself. That's David Desharnais. That line has been a real bright spot."
However, Desharnais doesn't see things in quite same light.
"I'm happy, but at the same time you look at what you did yourself after the season," he said. "Right now we're putting on the Montreal Canadiens jersey, we're in last and nobody's happy."
Two of the goals for the Wild (28-26-10) came off the stick of Matt Kassian, his first goals and points of his NHL career in his 21st game. Heatley and Setoguchi scored late to make for a very dramatic finish.
"Confidence often comes from experience," Kassian said. "The staff and organization having confidence in me is huge, and I can't credit my two linemates enough. They had fantastic games as well."
The loss was Minnesota's third in four games (1-2-1), and dropped the Wild's record to 8-19-7 since jumping out to a scorching 20-7-3 start.
Of course, the players Minnesota was missing for this game played a large part in that, as captain Mikko Koivu (shoulder), defensemen Clayton Stoner (lower body) and Mike Lundin (lower body) and forwards Guillaume Latendresse (concussion) and Pierre-Marc Bouchard (concussion) were all missing in action.
The game was a rough one right from the opening faceoff, with Montreal's Ryan White and Minnesota's Stephane Veilleux dropping the gloves 10 seconds in. Later in the first period, White got an instigating minor, a fighting major and a 10-minute misconduct for punching Veilleux three times while he was tied up by Chris Campoli after slashing Price while hoping for a rebound.
"I was sending a message," White said. "Don't be whacking Pricy. I don't think that will be happening on this team anymore."
The hardest hit of the night was probably laid by Canadiens defenseman Alexei Emelin -- except it was on his own teammate; he sent Cole flying head over heels at center ice with a fantastic hip check in the first period.
The game had some casualties as well.
Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom had to leave just 2:52 into the game after he kicked out his right leg to make a save on a Cole shot and could not get back up. He eventually was helped off the ice and replaced by backup Josh Harding after making five saves on six shots.
In a television interview between periods, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said he didn't believe Backstrom's injury was short-term.
Before Backstrom's injury, Canadiens forward Aaron Palushaj left the game after taking an errant Jed Ortmeyer stick to the right eye. He writhed in pain for some time before leaving the ice with the trainer applying pressure to the eye as he skated.
"We don't know the extent at this time," Cunneyworth said. "It's in the eye area, but I don't want to speculate."
Minnesota was down 4-1 with just under four minutes left to play in regulation before Kassian scored his second of the night at 16:07 to draw the Wild to within two -- and while it appeared to be a case of being too little too late, Heatley added his team-best 20th of the season with the goalie pulled at 18:17 to make it a one-goal game.
With Harding still on the bench Pacioretty had a step on Wild defenseman Kurtis Foster chasing a loose puck in the Minnesota zone when he appeared to be tripped and fell, but no penalty was called -- something that left Cunneyworth puzzled afterwards but something he refused to use as an excuse.
"We shouldn't have got to that point," he said. "It's something we have to learn and we have to get better at, but I'm pleased it was a win. That's the bottom line."
The puck found its way back into the Canadiens end and Price's errant pass attempt eventually made its way on to the stick of Setoguchi, who jammed home a shot with just 9.8 seconds left in regulation to complete the comeback.
The action of the end of regulation somehow managed to match what was seen in the first.
Before getting their first shot on Price, the Wild took four penalties, lost their starting goalie and allowed two Montreal power-play goals -- by Subban on a blistering one-timer at 2:33 and by Eller off a nice setup from Scott Gomez at 4:28.
The shots on goal were 9-0 when newly acquired Tom Gilbert finally got Minnesota's first at 15:11. Just 16 seconds later Kassian got his first of the night to make it a 2-1 game.
"I was pretty cold there for the first 15 minutes of that game," Price said. "We were playing well in their end and not allowing them a whole lot, then they score on their second shot."
Pacioretty made it 3-1 at 11:59 of the second, roofing a wrist shot over Harding's left shoulder with Cal Clutterbuck in the box. Desharnais scored Montreal's lone even strength goal of the game at 8:50 of the third to make it 4-1, a lead that appeared safe, but ultimately wasn't.
Prior to the game linesman Pierre Champoux was honored for officiating his 1,500th NHL game. The NHL's director of officiating, Terry Gregson, was on hand to present Champoux with a gift to commemorate the occasion, and Champoux's parents, wife and three children were brought onto the ice for the ceremony.
The Canadiens' Josh Gorges and the Wild's Heatley also presented Champoux with jerseys signed by all the players on both teams.