MONTREAL – Presented with an opportunity to atone for a rough outing against the Flyers less than 24 hours after departing the City of Brotherly Love, the Canadiens responded the way they have all season against southeast division foes: with a win.
Deprived of leading goal scorer Tomas Plekanec for the first time this year due to injury, the Habs posted a 4-1 victory over the Jets on Thursday night, maintaining their second place standing in the Eastern Conference, three points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins with 11 games to go in the regular season.
“We were faced with some adversity with [Wednesday] night’s performance in Philadelphia and losing Plekanec, so we had to find a way to rebound as a team, and get back on the winning track as quickly as possible,” said head coach Michel Therrien, whose squad improved to 11-0 against the likes of Winnipeg, Carolina, Washington, Florida and Tampa Bay on the year behind 33 stops from goaltender Peter Budaj. The 30-year-old netminder won his sixth straight start, helping the Canadiens collect their fourth win in the last five games.
“I think everyone contributed to this win,” added Therrien. “What I take away most from the victory is that we didn’t let ourselves lose focus. We wanted to show our strength of character with the loss of Tomas, so it was important for us to have a good game.”
Tinkering with his lineup in Plekanec’s absence, Therrien pushed all the right buttons for the umpteenth time during the lockout-shortened campaign, as the Habs quickly erased an early 1-0 first period deficit and never looked back.
After evening the score at one with his 14th
goal of the season in the opening frame, Michael Ryder – paired with Alex Galchenyuk and Travis Moen – put the Canadiens ahead for good just over two minutes into the second. For Ryder, who has notched 17 points in 17 games since joining the Canadiens in late February, besting the Jets was a priority in light of the bitter defeat a day earlier.
“We had a rough game [Wednesday]. We didn’t play our best,” confirmed Ryder, who enjoyed his third two-goal game for the Habs this year. “We knew we had to play strong and bounce back. That’s what we did. It shows the character of this team and what we have in here. [Plekanec] is a big part of this team; a big asset. When a guy like him goes down, everybody else has to step up.”
Galchenyuk was no exception. The 19-year-old made the most of the veteran experience he had flanking him to snap an 18-game goalless drought, scoring his fourth of the season to put the Habs ahead 4-1 in the third period. Returning to his natural position at center appeared to spark the rookie’s creativity from the start against the Jets.
“We all know he’s a centerman. We have to work with him,” said Therrien, noting that the Habs’ first round selection in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft continues to mature with each passing game. “He could’ve played Junior this year or even next year, so it’s a learning process for him. We want to give him a lot of experience this year, so for the future he’ll benefit in his career.”
Fellow pivot Lars Eller, who collected two assists against Winnipeg in 18 minutes of ice time on a line with Brian Gionta and Brandon Prust, noted that the Habs’ resiliency in the face of repeated injuries has been nothing short of inspiring.
“It always feels good to contribute to the team’s success, and when guys are out, other guys need to step in,” explained Eller, who has four goals and 19 points in 35 games this year. “Other guys have been doing that all season. I was glad to chip in tonight and next game it’s probably somebody else. Every time we need something from other guys, we’re getting it and that’s the strength of this team this year.”
No doubt that resiliency will be put to the test once again on Saturday night against the northeast division rival Boston Bruins at the Bell Centre.
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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