MONTREAL - The bigger they are, the harder they fall...or so it would seem in the new NHL. Thanks to Mike Ribeiro's overtime winner, the smaller and quicker Canadiens downed the Flyers 3-2 Tuesday night at the Bell Centre.
After tying the game 2-2 midway through the third period, Ribeiro capped off his night's work by whistling a wrist shot over the shoulder of Robert Esche to complete the Canadiens' comeback.
"It feels really good to have done this against a team like the Flyers," said Ribeiro, who was greeted in the Canadiens dressing room by team President Pierre Boivin who was the first to shake No. 71's hand after his two-goal performance. "When I was sitting in the penalty box serving my double-minor and the Flyers scored to make it 2-1, all I wanted to do was make up for it."
Montreal is now off to a 7-2 start for the first time in their 88-year NHL history. Using their speed and puck-moving style that has served them well so far in 2005-06, the Canadiens picked up their first home-ice win over the Flyers since squeezing out another 3-2 overtime victory at the Bell Centre way back on April 5, 2001.
The last time the Canadiens had more than 14 points in the standings nine games into the season was back in 1982-83 when they began the year with 15 points, thanks to a 7-1-1 mark. The Flyers dropped to 4-3, suffering only their fourth loss in Montreal over their last 12 visits.
Keeping Peter Forsberg and Simon Gagne - two of the NHL's top five scorers - off the scoresheet for the first time of the season did not go unnoticed by Claude Julien.
"Our defensemen had a tough assignment and they did a terrific job for us tonight," said Julien . "[Craig] Rivet continued to impress and has looked great so far this season. Our defense did a really good job getting to the puck first in our end. Our team speed overall was a huge factor again tonight."
"It's no secret that we're not the biggest team around," added Julien. "But we know we can skate with anyone in this league. There is so much confidence in our room right now. It would be great to win easily once in a while, but these types of wins show a lot about what this club is made of."
For the fifth time in the club's seven wins, Julien's cardiac kids have waited until the final five minutes of the game or overtime to score the game-winner, with six of the Canadiens seven victories so far decided by a one goal margin.
"Pulling out these late wins is a sign of what the new NHL is all about," said Jose Theodore, who stopped 20-of-22 shots to improve to 6-2 on the season. "You never know when a 5-on-4 or even a 5-on-3 is coming. No lead is safe anymore. Teams can't just sit on a lead like they used to."
The Canadiens owned a 29-22 edge in shots on the night, as they out-gunned the opposition for seventh time in 2005-06.
On the heels of piling up more goals per game than any other Canadiens player in 2003-04 with 17 goals in only 50 games, Pierre Dagenais notched his first goal of the campaign despite only seeing 2:23 of ice-time on the night.
"It's definitely a relief to finally put one in," admitted Dagenais, who opened the scoring in the first period despite getting only two shifts for a total of 38 seconds in the opening frame. "I have to make the most of my opportunities. All my goals won't be pretty. Tonight I just went hard to the net and I was in the right place at the right time."
Scoring goals on the night for Philadelphia were rookie standout Mike Richards and former Canadien Brian Savage, who notched his first goal as a Flyer. Esche turned away 26-of-29 Montreal shots.
The Canadiens now head back on the road after their 3-1 homestand for a showdown for Eastern Conference supremacy versus the 6-1 Senators in Ottawa on Thursday night before returning to the Bell Centre to take on the Rangers on Saturday.
NOTES: Tuesday night's match-up with the Flyers drew a capacity crowd of 21,273, marking the Canadiens' 23rd consecutive regular season sellout dating back to 2003-04... The Canadiens power-play went 1-for-10 while the Flyers were 2-for-8, including Savage's goal that came during the dying moments of a nearly two-minute 5-on-3 advantage.. Six-foot Alexander Perezhogin leveled Keith Primeau early in the third period with the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Flyers captain having to be helped from the ice by a Flyers trainer... Theodore picked up the ninth NHL point (1-8-9) of his career when he helped set-up Ribeiro's game-tying goal midway through the third period... D Mike Komisarek dropped the gloves for only the fifth time of his NHL career as he took on former Canadiens tough guy Donald Brashear... RW Richard Zednik missed his eighth straight game since pulling his groin on opening night in Boston. Zednik may be back in the lineup as early Thursday night in Ottawa. RW Niklas Sundstrom missed his second consecutive game with a groin injury of his own.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com