MONTREAL – If there was any doubt that the Habs have earned their place among the NHL’s elite, the team proved so on Thursday night.
Blanked 4-0 by the high-powered Penguins on Tuesday, the question on Thursday was whether Michel Therrien’s squad could bounce back against a tough St. Louis team which had not lost in Montreal in over a decade.
The answer, meanwhile, could not have been clearer.
“Yeah, maybe we were a little extra motivated [by the doubters],” admitted P.-A. Parenteau, who gifted Max Pacioretty with a precise pass in the second to set up the night’s go-ahead goal. “In my opinion [the Blues] are the best team in the west. They’re the most balanced team and I think we played a strong game tonight.”
Parenteau’s benefactor on the highlight reel play shared similar sentiments, on an evening when the Habs were able to play with the type of grit and intensity beating a heavy team like the Blues requires, while also making the most of their opportunites.
“These are statement games. We had stretches where we struggled to score goals but we came in here tonight and scored four against a team which doesn’t give up many,” affirmed Pacioretty, who was named the game’s first star. “That really helps our confidence moving forward. It definitely makes a statement and shows that we’re ready to play with the big boys from out west. They’re a great team over there and hopefully we opened some eyes tonight.”
The opportune timing was two-fold for Pacioretty, who also scored a pair of goals – including the game-winner – to celebrate his birthday on Thursday.
“I told my parents this is normally the time where I start to heat up, right around my birthday,” cracked the newly turned 26-year-old. “I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but I’m happy to contribute and hopefully now I can keep it going.”
Although the Habs made it look easy against the NHL’s stingiest defense, lighting the lamp four times against a squad which had previously allowed an average of just 1.89 goals per game, the Habs’ assistant captain nevertheless insisted patience truly was a virtue in securing the win.
“In a tight-checking game like that you’ve got to stay patient. We were able to do that tonight – grind them down a bit,” noted the New Canaan, CT native. “You know in the back of your mind when you grind them down the chances are going to come as the game goes on. Thankfully we were able to capitalize on them – while Carey also made a couple of big saves – and that was the difference right there.”
While wins will always be paramount for the Habs, Lars Eller meanwhile conceded to harboring ulterior motives on Thursday night.
“It always feels good to score, especially against your old team, I’m not going to lie about that,” acknowledged the 25-year-old forward, who capped the night’s scoring to seal the 4-1 win. “I think it was the first time we’ve beat them too since I’ve been here so that was also a good feeling. We’re going up against some of the top teams right now which is a great measuring stick for us, and we showed that we can play with them when we play to our strengths.”
Rounding out the scoring was Dale Weise, who continues to rack up points at what always seems to be just the right moment for the Habs, tying the game early in the second to spark the Canadiens comeback.
“I like where my game is right now. I’m finding ways to contribute offensively. I don’t judge myself on numbers and I like what I’m bringing to the table,” noted the 25-year-old forward, who is now just two goals shy of his career season high in just 18 games played.
While Weise is on pace to set a new personal best this season, the Habs have already hit an important early season milestone following Thursday’s matchup, reaching the 15 wins marker after just 21 games played – six games sooner than a year ago – to remain atop the league standings.
“We’re happy with the way we played tonight for sure,” concluded the Winnipeg native. “This team believes in itself and we proved that tonight. We’ve got a lot of confidence in our hockey team and we always find a way to rebound. We’re such a great team in here and it was a great effort by us tonight.”
Steven Nechay is a writer for canadiens.com
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