MONTREAL - Ten games have gone by since Carey Price last defended the Canadiens' net, and he couldn't have picked a better time to come back. After the Habs dropped their last five games, the 30-year-old netminder returned to work to lead his squad to a 3-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres in a special Saturday night at the Bell Centre.
Naturally, his teammates couldn't have been more thrilled.
"He's one of the best players in the League. To get a player like that is always a boost," Alex Galchenyuk said of his team's star goaltender. "Not just on the ice, but in the locker room he's so focused and calm. It's great to have a leader [like him] and great to see him back."
Video: Alex Galchenyuk on the return of Carey Price
Paul Byron added that while the Habs enjoyed some solid play between the pipes in Price's absence, having No. 31 back added a little je-ne-sais-quoi to the mix.
"Anytime you get the best goalie back on your team, making those saves like he always does, it gives people a lot of positives," he added. "One thing this team can't complain about is the goaltending we've gotten lately. Carey was great for us."
Video: Paul Byron on his shorthanded goal
Although they had picked up a point in a tightly-fought game in Nashville earlier in the week, the Canadiens knew the importance of getting back in the win column, especially given they were back in their own barn.
"We talked before the game, we had to have a great game at home. We had to find a way to win at the Bell Centre in front of our own fans. It was an important game for us," continued Galchenyuk. "We knew it was a big one tonight and we had to get the win."
The Habs didn't waste opportunities on special teams, and opened the scoring on their first power play of the night on a Jeff Petry blast from the point midway through the first period. The goal was just one of many ways Petry has stepped up in Shea Weber's absence - Saturday's game was the third straight he had missed with a lower-body injury - and his recent efforts the past three games were not lost on his bench boss.
"My assessment of Jeff the last two games, he's been outstanding for me. He's skating with a lot of confidence, he's getting on those pucks, he's winning those battles and races. It just seems like he's playing with a lot of energy," Claude Julien said of the 29-year-old, who led all Canadiens with 24:16 of ice time and registered a plus-1 differential, two hits and four blocked shots. "It's nice to see a guy like that step up like he's doing right now when you're missing one of your top defensemen. He's done a great job, and you hope he continues playing that way. That's the kind of player we need on the backend."
Julien didn't save his compliments exclusively for Petry, however, pointing out that the changes to his forward line combinations yielded the results he was looking for. Not only did he like the way Max Pacioretty gelled with Phillip Danault and Andrew Shaw, but Julien - who took over sole possession of 13th place on the Habs' all-time win list with the victory - sang the praises of the Byron-Jonathan Drouin-Galchenyuk trio as well.
After Galchenyuk padded the Habs' lead off a Byron rebound on a nifty play initiated by Drouin in the second, it was Byron's turn to add to the lead. With Montreal on the penalty kill in the third, the speedy winger stole the puck from the Sabres just outside the Habs' blue line and broke away to slip the puck through the legs of Buffalo goalie Robin Lehner to make it 3-0.
"Pauly was Pauly tonight. He continued to skate for us, he scored a big goal for us shorthanded. That was a huge goal," Julien explained of Byron, who finished the night with two points, a plus-2 rating and four shots on net. "When you just have a two-goal lead, and the way Buffalo came out in the third, if they get a goal, they get a lot of hope there. That was a pretty big dagger when he scored that goal shorthanded."
Video: BUF@MTL: Byron dekes, beats Lehner for SHG
With the scoreboard stuck at 3-0 late in the third, the Sabres came very close to spoiling Price's perfect homecoming. Evander Kane got the puck in the net with 32.5 seconds to go, but the goal was disallowed upon video review.
Given that the Canadiens were marking Hockey Fights Cancer night - which included a visit with the players for about 70 young members of Leucan in attendance at the game - they couldn't have written a more fitting story for the night, and it started and ended with the man in the crease.
"I felt prepared more than anything," Price said of making his comeback with a 36-save shutout, his first of the season and the 40th of his career. "I spent a lot of time thinking about today and I'm just glad it all turned out well.
"Injuries aren't a vacation. It took a lot to get ready for tonight," he concluded. "Now I have to move on to the next one."