MONTREAL - The Canadiens went back to their heart-stopping ways Tuesday with a thrilling 3-2 win over the Thrashers that saw Montreal emerge victorious in their first-ever shootout on home-ice.
Despite playing only a total of four shifts on the night, Pierre Dagenais notched the only goal of the shootout to provide the Canadiens (14-5-3) with the victory and the crucial extra point in the standings. The Thrashers dropped their second straight to fall to 8-11-2.
The game would never have come down to a shootout had Jose Theodore not been brilliant over three periods, not to mention overtime.
"This was clearly Jose's best game of the season so far," said Claude Julien. "He was sharp, confident and square to the puck all night long. Hopefully he can build on tonight's performance. We need that from him right now more than ever with our current injury situation. He deserves a lot of the credit tonight."
Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk had the game on his stick as he swooped in alone with time winding down in overtime but Theodore made a spectacular pad save as No. 60 was just warming up for his eventual grand finale. After surrendering goals to Peter Bondra and Kovalchuk in the second period, Theodore got his revenge by stoning each of them in the shootout. After Michael Ryder shot high over the net on his attempt, Dagenais beat Altanta goaltender Steve Shields to put the Canadiens ahead by one, setting the stage for Theodore's showdown with Marian Hossa.
The Canadiens' netminder then capped off his night's work with a shootout-clinching, acrobatic glove save that belonged more under the Big Top than a hockey game.
"Without Jose we don't get these two points tonight," said shootout co-hero Dagenais, who was quick to credit his goalie for his outstanding performance that saw him stop 28-of-30 Atlanta shots, including all 14 directed his way in the third period alone.
While not a fan of seeing games decided by a shootout, Theodore couldn't deny the electricity that surged through the jam-packed Bell Centre during the NHL's new edge-of-your-seat, tie-breaking format.
"It felt like a playoff game out there during the shootout," noted Theodore, who has only allowed one goal in six attempts in the team's two shootouts so far in 2005-06. "But all the excitement aside, this is a team game and having the outcome of a game come down to a shootout is something I guess we're all going to have to get used to in the new NHL."
Dagenais has adapted and is clearly right at home in these one-on-one showdowns. His selection as one of Julien's three shooters along with Ryder and Saku Koivu should come as no surprise to those who paid close attention to the Canadiens' exhibition shootouts during the preseason. The 6-foot-5 winger did after all go 2-for-3, with one of his goals even coming against the Thrashers in Montreal's preseason opener back on Sept. 18 at the Bell Centre.
"Tonight, I was rested and ready to go that's for sure," smiled Dagenais who logged only 2:42 of ice-time. "My knees were shaking when I got out there, but that rush of adrenaline I felt as I closed in on Shields was incredible. I was waiting for him to make the first move and when he didn't, I decided to shoot. The preseason was one thing, but to get the chance to be sent out there with the win on the line and to feel the crowd behind us was really amazing. I'm just glad I was able to do my part and help the team tonight."
Earning an honorable mention in Tuesday's squeaker over the Thrashers was the Canadiens' penalty-killing unit, who certainly earned their keep on this night. The Thrashers, who arrived in Montreal with the NHL's third-best power-play, including the second-ranked unit on the road, hit a brick wall at the Bell Centre as the Canadiens killed off all 13 Atlanta opportunities on the night, a season-high for Claude Julien's troops.
Ryder opened the scoring early in the second period on the power-play with his team-leading 10th of the season, as he pounced on a Mike Ribeiro rebound before beating Shields. Radek Bonk picked up the other assist for his third point in his last four games after amassing three points over his first 11 games to start the season.
Andrei Markov then put Montreal ahead 2-1 with his third of the year on a blast from the point set-up by Ryder and Craig Rivet during a Canadiens man-advantage. Montreal was 2-for-9 on the power-play while Atlanta was 0-for-13.
Shields, who was back between the pipes for the Thrashers for the first time since Nov.1 after missing six games with a knee injury, stopped 36-of-38 shots, not including Dagenais' shootout clincher.
The Canadiens will kick off a three-game road trip on Friday, starting in Buffalo before traveling to Toronto to take on the Leafs on Saturday. Montreal will then wrap things up with a showdown against the Eastern Conference -leading Senators in Ottawa next Tuesday.
NOTES: Tuesday night's match-up with the Thrashers drew a capacity crowd of 21,273, marking the Canadiens' 13th consecutive sellout of the season and 36th straight overall packed house dating back to 2003-04...D Sheldon Souray sat out Tuesday's game with a groin injury... Despite dressing six defensemen, Julien rolled five blueliners all night long with D Mark Streit not playing a single shift... D Francis Bouillon, who despite injuring his left knee on Saturday versus the Capitals, logged a game-high 32:38 and blocked a game-high six shots...
|Team ||Player ||Result |
|ATL ||Ilya Kovalchuk ||No goal |
|MTL ||Michael Ryder ||No goal |
|ATL ||Peter Bondra ||No goal |
|MTL ||Pierre Dagenais ||Goal |
|ATL ||Marian Hossa ||No goal |
|MTL ||Saku Koivu ||Did not shoot |
Montreal wins the shootout 1-0.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com