MONTREAL - On head coach Guy Carbonneau's first night behind the bench for a regular season home game, a pair of other Habs enjoying their first taste of the Bell Centre crowd took things into their own hands on Saturday against the Senators.
With two points in the standings seemingly slipping away and time winding down in the third period, Canadiens newcomers Sergei Samsonov and Janne Niinimaa teamed up to not only tie the game and force overtime, but also earn the Habs another all important point in the standings.
Acquired from the Dallas Stars in exchange for Mike Ribeiro only two weeks ago, Niinimaa spotted a streaking Samsonov, who fired up the jets and wove his way through a maze of Senators before zipping a wrist shot between Ray Emery's pads with only 3:23 remaining.
While disappointed he and his teammates couldn't secure the full two points by winning the shootout, Samsonov was pleased to have done his part in his regular season home-ice debut.
"It definitely feels good to be able to break the ice with a goal in my first game here at home," admitted Samsonov. "It was exciting but at the same time difficult given the end result."
The shootout loss to the Senators aside, Carbonneau couldn't help but feel satisfied on a night his team clawed back to earn a point after he received a lengthy standing ovation during the pre-game presentations in honor of his first home game as head coach.
"I've always had a great relationship with the fans here," recalled Carbonneau, who spent the first 13 seasons of his NHL career in Montreal, winning a pair of Stanley Cups in 1986 and 1993. 'It was still surprising to hear that kind of reaction from the crowd, but it certainly felt good."
As if Niinimaa's first home game wasn't enough to get his adrenaline pumping, injuries to both Craig Rivet and Mathieu Dandenault saw the Finnish defenseman log over 22 minutes of ice-time to help pick up the slack.
In addition to setting up Samsonov's tying goal, Niinimaa also had the chance to feel what playing in hockey-mad city like Montreal is all about.
"It reminds me of my days in Edmonton where the fans always recognized hard work and were also knowledgeable enough to point out mistakes too," said Niinimaa, who played parts of six seasons with the Oilers from 1998 though 2003. "All I can say is that it's great to be back in such a great hockey town and to play in front of these passionate fans."
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com