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Eller's four-goal night powers Canadiens to 7-3 win

by Arpon Basu
MONTREAL – The chant began just short of the five-minute mark of the third period -- a chant that has not been heard very often at the Bell Centre this season.

The sellout crowd of 21,273 broke into their signature "Ole, ole, ole, ole" chant moments after Lars Eller completed the first hat trick of his NHL career, erasing all doubt the beleaguered Montreal Canadiens would earn a much-needed 7-3 win Wednesday over the Winnipeg Jets.

The crowd erupted even louder when Eller scored his fourth goal of the night on a spectacular penalty shot at the 11-minute mark of the third period, pulling a spinorama right in front of replacement goalie Chris Mason and tucking in a backhander before falling over the goaltender.

The highlight-reel goal changed the crowd's chants into ones of "Eller, Eller, Eller" before going back to their traditional victory routine, creating a buzz unmatched in Montreal this season.

After the game, when Eller was named the game's first star and received four pucks instead of the usual three to throw to the fans in the stands, he extended his stay a little bit and implored the already cheering fans to get a little louder.

And they complied.

"I just felt this incredible feeling. It's probably never going to happen again so you want to enjoy it as much as you can while you're out there and embrace it. It was an awesome feeling. This is what you dream of," a beaming Eller said afterwards. "I just wanted to make it last as long as I could. But I knew they could get louder because I've heard them get louder, and they answered."

Those fans have had little reason to get that loud this season.

The blowout over the Jets was just the sixth win by the Canadiens in their 19 games at home (6-7-6), and it gave interim coach Randy Cunneyworth his second victory in eight games since taking over behind the bench Dec. 17.

However, when asked how it felt for him to get his first win at home and bask in the adoration of a fan base that expressed great disappointment with his hiring, Cunneyworth refused to talk about himself, diverting all the attention to Eller and the overall play of his team by saying, "I didn't perceive it as being vocal for me, I thought it was great for Lars."

Still, Cunneyworth was happy his troops gave the fans something to cheer about. Finally.

"We're very pleased that we did it for our fans, I think it was an exciting night for them here in this building," he said. "Hopefully it's something that we'll see more often. Forget the score, but more exciting hockey like that. I think that's more of what it's about. It's competing, it's about going after them every shift, and I thought we had a very alert bench so I was pleased with that."

The fans will most likely be pleased with Cunneyworth's start to his post-game news conference where he came out, signaled for the reporters to be quiet, giggled a little bit and said, "I am very happy for Lars."

Except he said it in French.

Tomas Kaberle scored his first in a Montreal uniform while Josh Gorges and Michael Cammalleri also scored in a rare offensive explosion for the Canadiens (15-18-7), who won for the second time in nine games, scoring 13 goals combined in those victories.

It was Cammalleri's third goal in four games after scoring just six in his first 31 contests.

"It's been a difficult season, undoubtedly, and my production isn't anywhere near where it needs to be," Cammalleri said. "But I do feel great about my game. I have full confidence in my abilities and feel confident in my game."

Blake Wheeler extended his point streak to six games with a goal and an assist and Tim Stapleton and Andrew Ladd also scored for the Jets (19-15-5), who saw their three-game win streak snapped as they continue to struggle away from the friendly confines of MTS Centre.

The Jets road record fell to 5-9-4, losing their first game in January after completing December with a 10-3-1 record, with 12 of those 14 games being played at home.
Coach Claude Noel said his team was practically unrecognizable from the one that had just put together its best month of hockey in franchise history.

"Are you playing to win? We didn't play with the same heart, determination, passion or the same fire that you played with the whole month before," he said. "You can't fake this thing."

Wheeler has four goals and five assists over the course of his streak.

Ondrej Pavelec entered the game with a career .934 save percentage in seven games against the Habs, but allowed six goals on 24 shots before being pulled by Noel at 9:22 of the third period.

"We didn't check well enough as a group. You protect him, he's part of the team," Noel said of Pavelec's performance. "I didn't feel we did the necessary things for 60 minutes. Where was our checking game? That's what we had been doing so well. It wasn't there. Was it because you don't know how to check, or is it your will to check, or do you play differently on the road? Those are all the things you have to ask yourself."

Eller's breakout, five-point performance came four games after Cunneyworth made he and defenseman P.K. Subban healthy scratches in Winnipeg, a listless 4-0 Canadiens loss on Dec. 22. Since then, Eller has five goals and two assists in four games. His four-goal night was the first for a Canadiens player since Jan Bulis on Jan. 25, 2006.

"I really enjoy playing for Randy," Eller said. "He's very close to the players, you can always go and talk to him and he'll talk to you about things. You never bad asking him a question because you know he wants to make you a better player."

The Jets opened the scoring at 3:41 of the first, further quieting an already nervous crowd when Stapleton got a tap-in for his sixth of the season.

But the Canadiens struck with two quick goals to take a 2-1 lead into the first intermission, with Gorges scoring his second on a long shot from the point and Eller on a laser beam from the slot 43 seconds apart at 13:24 and 14:07.

Kaberle extended the lead to 3-1 with a big slap shot for his first of the season at 5:32 of the second, but Wheeler made it 3-2 with a tip on the power play for his seventh at 17:51.

Montreal blew the game open with three goals in a 50-second span early in the third -- turning the game into a rout and sending the crowd into a frenzy. Eller got his second of the night at 2:41 off a great Travis Moen feed, one of his three assists on the night. Cammalleri got his ninth of the season and third in four games at 3:03, and Eller completed the hat trick by one-timing a brilliant pass from Andrei Kostitsyn at 3:31 and triggering a shower of hats on the Bell Centre ice.

Then Eller was hauled down on a partial breakaway for a penalty shot at 11:00 of the third, setting the stage for his most dramatic moment of an already memorable night. Eller, who has never been called upon in a shootout situation in his NHL career, said he had planned the move in advance because he's seen so many people simply shoot with no success.

But Cammalleri had another theory behind Eller's choice.

"You call that can-fidence," he said. "It's more than confidence, it's can-fidence."

Ladd's goal at 13:03 did little to lessen the mood in the building, as the Habs legions of fans who have suffered through a difficult season were finally permitted to let their hair down, at least for one night -- and they took full advantage of that rare opportunity.
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