MONTREAL – The Montreal Canadiens are consistently winning games they made a habit of losing a year ago.
Monday night was yet another example.
Brandon Prust broke a scoreless tie in the third period and Peter Budaj did the rest, making 19 saves for his 10th career shutout to give the Montreal Canadiens their fourth straight victory, a 3-0 win against the injury-depleted Carolina Hurricanes.
“I mentioned to the team between the second and third [periods] that good teams feel comfortable playing in these types of games, they want to play these types of games,” Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. “The players responded well.”
Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty added goals 18 seconds apart in the third to ice the victory for the Canadiens (10-4-1), who jumped one point ahead of the Boston Bruins into first place in the Northeast Division.
The Canadiens finished 28th in the NHL and last in the Eastern Conference last season, consistently losing third-period leads and dropping tight games like the one they played Monday night. A big difference under Therrien has been the Canadiens’ refusal to sit back and protect leads late, continuing to play aggressive hockey in an attempt to get the next goal.
“We want to make sure we take time and space away,” Therrien said. “It’s demanding, you always have to pursue the puck well, you can’t run around for no reason. The guys are really buying into that. The guys are doing a great job regarding shots against, playing tight, blocking shots. Right now they are paying the price and they are getting rewarded.”
Cam Ward made 23 saves for the Hurricanes (8-5-1), who saw their own three-game winning streak come to an end.
Carolina captain Eric Staal’s 11-game point streak was another victim of the shutout loss.
“We just couldn’t find that next gear that we’ve been playing with for a while,” Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said. “We just didn’t have it from the start tonight.”
The Hurricanes had a depleted lineup that was missing forwards Jeff Skinner and Tim Brent and defensemen Joni Pitkanen and Tim Gleason. They had to call up Riley Nash from the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League on Monday morning, and then later called up Jeremy Welsh from the Checkers after it was determined at the morning skate that Brent couldn’t play. Welsh arrived at Bell Centre at 6 p.m., and was on the ice for warmups an hour later.
“We’re missing some key guys. In a tight game like tonight, Skinner is a game-breaker type of player,” Muller said. “But you’re going to have injuries, everyone’s going to go through it, and you have to find a way to win. It was an opportunity for other guys and we just didn’t capitalize or get the job done.”
The Canadiens were missing rookie forward Brendan Gallagher, out with a concussion, while goaltender Carey Price served as the backup as he still hasn’t recovered from a stomach flu that sent him to the hospital to be administered intravenous fluids on Sunday.
Price, however, arguably had the game’s greatest highlight just before the four minute mark of the second period when a puck was shot out of the Hurricanes end towards the Canadiens bench. As the puck was heading straight for RDS color commentator Marc Denis between the benches, Price’s instincts kicked in as he reached up and gloved it.
In Price’s absence, Budaj has won two games while stopping 37 of 38 shots and earning his first shutout since Nov. 6, 2010. The Canadiens allowed 19 shots in both games, the only two times this season they have limited their opponents to fewer than 20 shots.
“It definitely helps my confidence to get two wins and to be able to play well,” Budaj said. “Especially when the team in front of me works really hard, I wanted to play really great.”
With the game scoreless early in the third period, Canadiens rookie Alex Galchenyuk made a play that showed why he was the No 3 pick at the 2012 NHL Draft. Galchenyuk came into the Hurricanes’ zone with speed before pulling an inside-out move on Carolina defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti that got him deep into the slot area. Galchenyuk then flicked the puck to his right while he was getting checked and it bounced directly to Prust trailing the play, and he scored his second of the season at 2:06.
“You’ve got to make sure you don’t stop and watch, because sometimes it’s pretty and you find yourself just watching him,” Prust said of his talented linemate. “You try to keep up with him and I’ve learned to always keep my stick on the ice when he’s got the puck because he’ll find you sometimes when you don’t think he’s going to get it to you.”
Plekanec gave the Canadiens some breathing room at 12:03 when his slap shot from the left faceoff circle went off Ward’s mask, then his shoulder and slowly trickled into the net for his team-best eighth of the season. Plekanec has now earned a point in 11 of the Canadiens’ 15 games this season.
Pacioretty scored his first of the season at 12:21 on one Ward will not want to see again, an innocent dump in from center ice that bounced in front of Ward and past him to make it 3-0 Canadiens.
“It’s not a goal that will go down in the annals of history as one of the greatest ever, but it might take some pressure off his shoulders,” Therrien said of last season’s team scoring leader with 65 points. “If it gives him confidence, then that’s great.”
The two teams entered the third period in a scoreless tie thanks to some tremendous play by Ward and Budaj.
Ward stopped two excellent second period chances with a blocker save on David Desharnais from in tight in the first minute, and a post-to-post pad stop on Plekanec just past the midway point of the period.
Budaj didn’t see much action until the Hurricanes had a flurry of chances towards the end of the second, and he stood tall on a pair of goal mouth scrambles in the final two minutes to keep the game scoreless.
A largely uneventful first period was highlighted by a pair of big body checks by Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban on Alexander Semin and Patrick Dwyer as they crossed the blue line into the Montreal zone.