While a pre-holiday lump of coal was once a seasonal tradition for the Habs between 1996 and 2007 – going winless in 10 games on December 23 while being outscored 39-17 over that span – the team has since bounced back with a trio of consecutive victories on Christmas’ penultimate eve.
Winners of a 3-1 effort against a tough Islanders squad most recently on Tuesday, the Canadiens nevertheless didn’t make it look easy, being outhit 24-7, and outshot 38-21 – including by an early 14-3 margin in the game’s opening frame.
“Obviously I didn’t like the way we competed during the first period, but we composed ourselves in the second and bounced back, which allowed us to take the lead,” explained head coach Michel Therrien, who rallied his troops to three unanswered goals after watching the game’s opening 13:51 minutes elapse before Tom Gilbert fired the team’s first shot. “What was said behind closed doors between the first and the second periods won’t be repeated, but let’s just say I wasn’t happy.”
Fortunately, the Canadiens were able to count on All-Star netminder Carey Price once again on Tuesday, as the 27-year-old made 37 saves on the night to allow the team to find its rhythm while also notching a fifth win in his last six starts.
“Carey kept us in the game,” admitted Therrien. “He responded well starting in the first. I’m sure that without the way Carey has been playing this season, we’d have a lot fewer opportunities to come back and win games. He kept us in it tonight until we found our legs in the second.”
Entering his 800th career NHL game on Tuesday, veteran defenseman Andrei Markov meanwhile was experienced enough to expect a tall task against an Islanders team which began the evening ranked second in the East’s Metropolitan Division.
“We knew it was going to be a tough challenge,” acknowledged the 36-year-old blueliner who celebrated the milestone with not just a win, but also the game-tying goal in the second to spark the Canadiens comeback. “They have a good team that plays well. We made some mistakes in the first which they took advantage of by coming out hard, but after that I thought we played pretty responsibly. We played a pretty good road game in the second and third periods.”
Having battled back from a pair of serious injuries in 2009 and 2010, the achievement was a special one for Markov, who earlier this season also surpassed Doug Harvey for third place among defensemen on the team’s all-time scoring list.
“Whatever has happened in the past is out of my control. That stays in the past,” added the Voskresensk, Russia native who logged 25:33 of ice time to lead the team in that category once again on Tuesday. “Right now I’m healthy, happy and looking forward to the next couple of years.”
In the meantime however, Markov and the rest of the Canadiens can now look forward to a very merry Christmas break for the third time in a row.
Steven Nechay is a writer canadiens.com
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