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Closing time

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

DETROIT – Despite the strong season they’ve enjoyed so far, the Canadiens continue to be a team that only gets better with the passage of time.

They proved that quite literally once again on Monday.

With another pair of third period markers to start the week in Detroit – including Tomas Plekanec’s winner with just 2:30 left in regulation – Montreal now counts 68 goals this season in the final frame versus 47 in the second and just 25 in the first.

Combine that stat with an All-Star between the pipes, and it looks as though the Habs have a winning formula on their hands as the regular season begins to wind down.

“We know how to lock it down, and a big part of that is the goaltender we’ve got behind us. We know that he can shut the door and we’ve done a really good job of staying in the moment – not looking too far ahead or dwelling on what happened earlier in the game,” explained Plekanec, who knows the quality will be an enviable one come April. “We just focus on what we can control and we’ve been doing that well.”

While the Habs’ third period prowess has helped the team pick up two points on six occasions this season when trailing after two, a seventh comeback win wasn’t necessary on Monday thanks to another world class outing from Carey Price.

“Carey’s performances and calm demeanor have given us all confidence this season,” noted head coach Michel Therrien, who watched his star netminder pick up his 30th career shutout and fifth of the campaign to move into fifth place ahead of Patrick Roy on the club’s all-time list. “The guys know he can get the job done and that reflects on the ice.”

Ranked fourth in the NHL for blocked shots this season, the Habs defense was also at it again on Monday, stopping 19 shots from ever even reaching the Montreal net to leave Price with just 25 saves to make for the clean sheet.

“Our defensemen have been doing that all season long,” praised the 27-year-old goaltender, whose 0.935 save percentage and 1.93 goals against average are tops leaguewide. “They’re there to help me out and they’ve done an excellent job of that all year. They’re a group of warriors in front of the net and they make it really hard for opposing teams to jump on the puck.”

Laying one’s body on the line in front of a puck traveling at 90-plus miles per hour may sound like a risky proposition to most, but it’s become a no brainer for a Habs team which now sits second in the NHL with 78 points.

“Sacrifices win hockey games, and we’ve had to block shots to get to where we are in the standings right now,” acknowledged P.K. Subban who absorbed a trio of shots over 23:44 of ice time. “It’s not an easy thing to do, and even though we’ve done a good job so far, there’s still a lot of hockey left to be played – and a lot of shots left to be blocked. We just need to keep at it.”

If they do, the Canadiens will be a dangerous team to face in the postseason as games get tighter and goals get rarer – something the Red Wings learned firsthand on Monday.

“These are the types of games you want to be comfortable in because these are the types of games you’ll be playing in the spring,” concluded Price. “And I really like the way our team has been responding so far.”

Steven Nechay is a writer for canadiens.com.

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