MONTREAL - It came down to the wire, but Team Red defeated Team White in a shootout at the Canadiens Intrasquad Scrimmage presented by IGA on Sunday afternoon.
The Whites were playing catch-up most of the game. After Alex Belzile opened the scoring for the Reds in the first half, Max Domi replied for the Whites. Then, Jesperi Kotkaniemi couldn't convert on his first penalty-shot attempt but managed to beat Carey Price on a slapshot on his second opportunity to make it 2-1 for the Red side. Josh Brook evened things up and the first half finished tied, 2-2.
In the second half, Mike Reilly beat Cayden Primeau to give the Reds a 3-2 lead. Nate Thompson then scored for the Whites before Jordan Weal buried a centering pass from Charles Hudon to give the Whites their first lead of the game. Primeau was heroic in preserving his team's lead in the dying seconds of the period.
Trailing 4-3 in the five-minute 3-on-3 that followed, Jeff Petry escaped on a breakaway and beat Primeau to help send the game into a shootout.
With Charles Hudon (White), Tomas Tatar (Red), Jonathan Drouin (White), and Jordan Weal (White) all being denied in the shootout, Paul Byron's lone goal in that segment would stand as the winner for the Reds.
The scrimmage was the first opportunity for the Habs' newcomers to get a sense of the Bell Centre atmosphere with the crowd on their side, and Ben Chiarot affirmed that he loved the feeling.
"It was awesome. I came out for warmups and the music was going, the stands were filled right to the roof," he said. "That's why the Bell Centre is a special place to play."
Video: Chiarot on playing in front of the Bell Centre crowd
Of course, the scrimmage wasn't all fun and games and was a chance for lines to start or resume building chemistry. Deployed with Max Domi and Artturi Lehkonen, forward Jonathan Drouin thought the trio meshed well in the early goings.
"It's very good. The three of us played together before. The first two practices, I think we've felt good. We're making plays, even in practice. For sure the hockey was a bit all over the place today, but I think we made some nice plays," recounted the Ste. Agathe native. "We seem to have a bit of chemistry, and it's a good way to start camp."
Video: Jonathan Drouin on his linemates
For youngsters in the lineup such as Nick Suzuki, the scrimmage was an opportunity to see how they measure up against NHL players, and though the 20-year-old forward noticed a difference in the level of play, he felt he handled it well.
"Probably just the strength and speed," Suzuki identified as the main differences from Junior. "I knew it was fast coming in, but this game was another level. Everyone is ramping it up to have a good start to the season. Everyone here is a skilled player and really talented. The speed and strength of everybody is huge. I think I can keep up."
Video: Nick Suzuki on battling in the corners
American forward Ryan Poehling, taken 12 picks after Suzuki at the 2017 NHL Draft, thought he was effective in his matchup with the London, ON native, even if it was a rather even tug-of-war.
"I thought it was back and forth. There were a few shifts where we took it to them and a few shifts where they took it to us," shared Poehling. "It was very even. It's just a matter of playing back and forth with one another. It went well."
Video: Ryan Poehling on facing Nick Suzuki
Kotkaniemi may have tallied in his second try at a penalty shot, but thinks he got a little help from the six-time NHL All-Star he scored on.
"Did you see when I talked with him before the second one? I told him, 'Give me one please'. And he did," cracked the 20-year-old Finn. "Thank you, Carey!"
Video: Jesperi Kotkaniemi on his penalty shots on Price
In all seriousness, though, the sophomore centerman knows that with the New Jersey Devils in town at the Bell Centre on Monday night, the real challenges are just beginning. 'KK', for one, is pumped to get to it.
"I've said it many times, the summer was long. It's finally good to get things going," concluded Kotkaniemi. "All the boys have been waiting a long time, so we're finally here."
The Canadiens host the New Jersey Devils for their first game of the preseason on Monday at 7:00 p.m. at the Bell Centre. For tickets, click here.