MONTREAL – Peter Budaj made the most of his latest opportunity to help the Canadiens climb the Eastern Conference standings.
Budaj turned aside 19 shots on Monday night to extend the Canadiens’ winning streak to four games with a 3-0 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes at the Bell Centre, collecting his first shutout in a Habs uniform in the process.
With the victory, the Canadiens matched their longest series of consecutive wins thus far this season, and surpassed the Boston Bruins atop the northeast division with 21 points (10-4-1) through 15 games. The Habs sit second in the conference, one point back of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“It’s always a bonus when you get a shutout. I think it’s a great win for us,” said Budaj, who recorded his 10th
career shutout and first since the 2010-11 season as a member of the Colorado Avalanche. “We’ve got to keep this thing going. The team played great in front of me again. We didn’t allow them much in the first and second. They had a few chances at the end of the second, but I think we played really good defensive hockey. A lot of blocked shots. Everybody contributed and we got a big win.”
Making his second consecutive start after Carey Price was sidelined over the weekend with a flu virus, Budaj emphasized the importance of maintaining a team-first mentality amidst a taxing calendar that will see the Canadiens wrap-up their fourth set of back-to-back games Tuesday night against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
“We’re trying to play for the logo on the sweater,” said the 30-year-old Slovak. “When you win, everything is going well. I won’t lie, this shutout makes me feel good. I’m excited. We’ve got a tough schedule ahead of us. We’re going to take tonight’s win in, and get back to work tomorrow.”
Brandon Prust opened the scoring for the Canadiens just over two minutes into the third period, the beneficiary of a dazzling display of stick-handling from rookie Alex Galchenyuk. The shifty 19-year-old forged his way into the offensive zone past blue-liners Bobby Sanguinetti and Michal Jordan, causing a measure of confusion in front of Carolina netminder Cam Ward. A loose puck ensued, and Prust scored the eventual game-winning goal, his second tally of the season.
“When he’s going and dangling like that, sometimes you have to make sure you don’t just stop and watch,” said Prust, noting that Galchenyuk can often mesmerize teammates and opponents alike on any given rush. “Sometimes, it’s pretty and you find yourself just watching him. So, you try and keep up with him and I’ve learned to keep my stick on the ice when he’s got the puck because he’ll find you sometimes when you think he won’t.”
Tomas Plekanec scored his eighth goal of the year at the 12:03 mark of the third period, before Max Pacioretty beat Ward 18 seconds later with a dump-in attempt that fooled the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner to put the Habs ahead by three.
“It’s good for his confidence,” explained Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien, who indicated that Pacioretty’s first goal of the season would further energize the left winger going forward. “For him, it will take off any additional pressure, especially when you’re known for being a goal scorer and you’re going through some difficulties in scoring. So, if it can help build his confidence, then even better.”
Confidence is exactly what Therrien has been seeing first-hand in his players over the last four games, in addition to a comfort level competing in close contests that the Canadiens have made every effort to build upon as the season continues.
“We stuck to our plan. We didn’t want to cheat. In a tough game like this, that's where you learn the most,” said Therrien, emphasizing the importance of forging team chemistry by staying the course and maintaining composure. “Even if we’re at home, we didn’t want to cheat. We didn’t want to get over the way we’re supposed to play. We stuck to it and we’re starting to feel more and more comfortable about playing those types of games.
“It’s a great sign. Good for the confidence of the team, the players, and good for the team to feel comfortable playing those types of games. This is what I like. I don’t see any panic. Guys stick to the plan and good things happen when you work hard.”
The Habs stymied a Hurricanes offense led by power forward Eric Staal, who had his 11-game point streak snapped on Monday night. The four-time NHL All-Star, who had amassed 17 points (8G, 9A) during that stretch, was held to five shots as Carolina was denied a fourth straight win.
The Canadiens bench boss is looking for a similar effort from here on out.
“We need a contribution from all five players on the ice,” Therrien said. “There are many positives to take out of performances like these.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
Game highlights: Habs vs. Hurricanes
Boxscore: Habs vs. Hurricanes
The Numbers Game - February 18, 2013