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All systems go

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
PITTSBURGH – The CONSOL Energy Center has been anything but kind to the opposition this season, but the Habs found a way to leave the Steel City with two big points on Thursday night in dramatic fashion.

When David Desharnais turned Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury inside out in the second round of the shootout to lift the bleu-blanc-rouge to a come-from-behind 6-5 victory, the Canadiens handed Dan Bylsma’s squad just its third loss in their last 19 games on home ice. Dating back to Nov. 13, only the Panthers and Rangers had managed to not leave Pittsburgh empty-handed.

Needless to say, the magnitude of what the Habs accomplished in their latest outing wasn’t lost on head coach Michel Therrien, who was quick to praise his troops’ effort after a tough outing 24 hours earlier against the Red Wings at the Bell Centre.

“When you go up against a team like the Penguins, a team with all that firepower, it can lead to games like this one. I liked the way our team was involved out there. We were constantly on the puck carrier and we wanted to create things on the ice. We came back three or four times and never game up,” underlined Therrien, whose contingent earned its 33rd win of the year on Thursday night while sending the Penguins to just their sixth loss of the season in their own building. “The credit goes to the players for this big win. It’s a big three out of a possible four points, especially with two big points here. It definitely gives our team a sense of confidence going forward.”

That sense of self-assurance was evident in Daniel Briere in the aftermath of a game that featured lead changes aplenty from the outset and one that could have ultimately gone in either team’s favor. After scoring his 10th goal of the season at the 6:17 mark of the second period to level the score at two apiece, the Gatineau native sent the tilt to an extra frame with the game-tying tally with just under six minutes remaining in regulation time and the Canadiens down by one.

“I said it before the Olympic break. In the weeks leading up to it, I was feeling better and better out there. Unfortunately, in the first game back, none of us had it. It cost me my place on a line with Plekanec and Gionta, but I’m feeling good out there. It’s all I can control. I had chances and I was able to cash in,” offered Briere, who tallied three points on Thursday night while logging 9:06 of ice time and posting a plus-2 differential. “It’s often like that against the Penguins. It’s never easy to win blowout games, especially here in Pittsburgh. It feels good to win a game like that. The fact that many guys factored in on the scoresheet was good for everybody.”

Enter Desharnais, who continued his torrid offensive pace with his third multi-point effort in his last four games by registering assists on goals by Brendan Gallagher and Max Pacioretty. The Canadiens centerman, who has now amassed 19 points in his last 20 games dating back to Dec. 31, continues to turn in one standout performance after another as the regular season rolls on. Desharnais also upped his shootout efficiency to 80 percent on the year, picking up his fourth goal in five opportunities and his third game-deciding goal of 2013-14.

“It did a lot of good for us to score a bunch of goals. We found a way. We took the lead. We came back. We took the lead. We came back. It was a good game for us since we hadn’t won for a while here,” mentioned Desharnais, referencing the fact that the Canadiens had lost five straight games in Pittsburgh ahead of Thursday night’s contest. “Coming back from the break, we knew the first game against Detroit wasn’t going to be easy. We wanted to pick it up and that’s what we did.”

Playing his second game in as many nights for the first time since April 2012, Peter Budaj can certainly attest to that. The Canadiens netminder turned aside 27 of 32 shots against in regulation time on Thursday night, before denying the likes of James Neal, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the shootout to post his seventh win of the season.

While Budaj insists he didn’t necessarily offer up the performance of a lifetime, what matters is that the squad stuck together against a formidable foe and ultimately came out on top in a rather hostile environment.

“The win is the most important thing. It was pretty ugly. If you score five goals, you should win in regulation. I definitely think the first two goals were on me and I’d like to have them back, but the guys battled really hard in front of me. They kept going against such a tough opponent in Pittsburgh. They did it in their building,” offered Budaj. “We never gave up. We kept going, and we were rewarded with big goals and a big two points.”

No doubt the Canadiens will look to exhibit that same relentlessness when they play host to the Maple Leafs on Saturday night in La Belle Province.

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for

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