Keep calm and move along
Not far removed from their eight-game winless streak, the Canadiens knew they had been playing some improved hockey - even in the midst of the slump - and noted that the key was to focus on the present and future and leave the past behind them.
There was no better night to do so than against a New York Rangers team that had erased their four-goal lead en route to a 6-5 victory at the Bell Centre nearly two weeks before.
"We've moved on and tried to just rebuild our identity. It wasn't about that," said Brendan Gallagher, who scored the game's opening goal, of the Habs' loss to the Blueshirts on November 23. "I don't think anyone even mentioned it before the game. It's just about getting back on track and playing our style of hockey. And I thought we did a good job of that tonight."
With a strong defensive effort, a perfect penalty kill, and some superb goaltending from Carey Price, head coach Claude Julien agreed that his team did exactly what they had to do to keep their sights focused squarely ahead.
"I would say it was a very good road win, when you only give up one goal. The goalie was good, but the team in front of him was good, too. Even in the third period, our best work was on our defensive effort," outlined Julien, whose squad outshot the Rangers 33-30. "The other team has a strong four-man attack, even five-man, and we adjusted well, our defensive response was very good. It gave us the chance to win a tight game."
Video: Claude Julien's postgame press conference @ NYR
Carried by Carey
In a tight contest like the one fought on Friday, getting a strong performance in net was crucial and that's exactly what the Habs got from Price.
The veteran netminder, who owns an impressive 19-8-1 lifetime record against the Rangers, said that he, too, was able to put his recent struggles behind him and help his club get its second win in three outings.
"I'm at the stage now where I'm pretty good at letting those types of things go and just focusing on today," shared Price, who turned aside 29 of the 30 shots he faced to keep his team in the game.
Video: Carey Price on the team's identity
Forward Tomas Tatar, who made a nifty move to start off the passing play that led to Gallagher's first-period goal, was full of praise for the All-World goaltender.
"He played great," outlined Tatar. "He always makes the extra save for us and he's a really important piece. Without him, it would be a lot tougher. Thanks to Carey; he's been awesome."
Julien noted that during the team's rough patch in November, Price was perhaps getting hung out to dry by the men in front of him, and with a better showing on their part, he was able to shine.
"He was solid. He was solid the last game he played, as well. I think we were pretty clear with that: when he was going through some tough times, we didn't help him out at all," recounted the coach. "If anything, we exposed him and we needed to be better in front of him. We were better in front of him, so now he has the confidence of the group in front of him and all he has to do is worry about his job."
It's a mantra that's been repeated often the past few weeks, but the Canadiens have been trumpeting their improved play for awhile now, and with a crucial intra-conference victory on Friday, they are finally getting the results to show for their progress.
"The last couple of games, we've been playing well. We've been giving up way less chances and way less odd-man rushes. That's been going on for a while," declared defenseman Ben Chiarot. "We just haven't really been getting some of the breaks, and not playing a good team like Colorado; they capitalize on their chances. We haven't been necessarily getting the wins we would want, but the way we've been playing is the right way to play: a lot better structurally and defensively.
For center Phillip Danault, who earned the primary assist on the Gallagher goal, the Habs' play without the puck was a big part in getting a big win in the Big Apple.
"We were solid defensively. Price was incredible; he made some big saves. They have a good offensive machine, with Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad, so he had to be alert and he was. Our defensemen were solid, but our forwards were too," described Danault, who won an impressive 77% of his 13 draws against the Rangers. "We came back on defense and we didn't open up the play much, except in the first period. And when we tightened up our game, we were better."
Video: Phillip Danault on learning from the recent struggles
The hero of the game on this night - Price aside - was Nate Thompson, who was deployed late in the contest and capitalized on Nick Cousins' drive to bury the game-winner with 67 seconds to go in regulation.
The mood in the room following the win was understandably jovial given what the Habs have been through of late, and Thompson pointed out that the character his team displayed at Madison Square Garden made the taste of victory that much sweeter.
"I think just the way we won it and the way we stuck through it the whole game… This one feels pretty good," concluded Thompson.
Video: Nate Thompson on the Canadiens' determination
The Canadiens have the day off on Saturday and resume practicing at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard on Sunday.