MONTREAL – Peter Budaj managed to scratch a major item off his season’s To-Do list on Sunday night.
Getting the call for just the sixth time this season, the back-up Habs netminder knew he would have his work cut out for him to earn a big two points off the best team in the NHL. Despite having watched the past nine games perched on a stool in his Canadiens cap on the bench, Budaj wasn’t about to let himself get rusty between starts.
“It’s not easy to not play in a month but I was preparing myself the best I can,” explained the Banska Bystrica, Slovakia native following his second win as a Hab. “I’ve been trying to keep myself in good physical shape and we work a lot with [goaltending coach] Pierre Groulx in practice. I’m glad the work paid off but now we have to build on it.”
Kicking aside 28 of the 29 Rangers shots he faced may have earned Budaj the win, but with the Max Pacioretty-David Desharnais-Erik Cole line combining for nine points on the night, it wasn’t enough to earn the 29-year-old netminder first star honors – at least not officially.
“He played great and he’s obviously the first star in my book,” praised Pacioretty, whose line had the market cornered in fan voting for first, second and third star honors on Sunday night. “He’s had to deal with a lot this year. He hasn’t played much, he’s worked his bag off every day in practice and it definitely showed today. The boys stepped up for him. We really wanted to get that one for him.”
Heading into the third period with a 4-1 lead over the Blueshirts, that was exactly the message Randy Cunneyworth delivered to his troops during the second intermission.
“[Peter] has worked awfully hard. He’s worked hard for himself but he’s also worked for his teammates,” confirmed the Habs head coach. “He’s always the first guy on, ready to get going and he’s one of the last guys off because he wants to work at both ends ready to get some extra work. Some of it is for him, but some of it is for the extra guys who are taking extra shots. His work is very unselfish, but he was ready for it and obviously the guys had to work well in front of him.”
While he and his teammates were happy with the result against the Rangers, with eight points still separating the Canadiens from a playoff spot, Budaj knows it’s not time to start celebrating just yet.
“We had a big win tonight against a great team and that’s always satisfying, but if you look at the standings board over there we have a long way to go,” he stressed. “It was a great team effort but now we have to build on this.”
Not that he didn’t skate off without enjoying his second-career celebratory triple-low five with P.K. Subban before leaving the Bell Centre ice with his first home win of the season.
“It’s really special. It’s a great arena and we have great fans and with such a great performance against a great team, I think the fans appreciate it,” offered Budaj. “The guys were working really hard in front of me and they helped me out a lot. I was able to make some saves and they were able to score some goals against a great goalie. When everybody contributes and we play to the best of our abilities, we can play with anybody. We just showed that.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.SEE ALSOPostgame comments: Cole
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