MONTREAL – The Montreal Canadiens were running short on commemorative game pucks Tuesday night as a team with new players, new coaches and new management all collected their first win of the season.
Alex Galchenyuk scored his first NHL goal and defenseman Andrei Markov scored a pair to get the Canadiens on the board for the 2012-13 season with a 4-1 win against the Florida Panthers at the Bell Centre.
The victory was the first for coach Michel Therrien in his second stint with the Canadiens, but when he was handed the game puck by goaltender Carey Price he had a thought for his boss instead.
"The first win is always special, but my first thought was for Marc Bergevin," Therrien said. "I've had first wins before, and don't get me wrong -- it was a great win and I really appreciate it, but it was his first win as general manager of the Montreal Canadiens. I wanted to make sure he got the puck and he was really happy about it."
Even Galchenyuk's first goal was assisted by Brandon Prust for his first point as a Montreal Canadien, and it was also the first career point for Brendan Gallagher, who was making his NHL debut.
It's not easy to slice a puck in two, let alone three, but Gallagher says there's no need to get the saw out.
"He can have that one," Gallagher said, laughing. "His goal was a little more important than my second assist."
Galchenyuk, the No. 3 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, scored at 14:25 of the second period to give the Canadiens a 4-1 lead with an incredible deflection. Prust wheeled around the Panthers' net toward the half boards and blindly threw a shot on goal that looked to be headed towards Galchenyuk's midsection in front of the net. But the rookie somehow got his stick on the puck and tipped it up and over Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen, landing it just past the goal line.
"I just deflected it, and I don't know how it went in," he said, clearly not caring how it went in, either.
Galchenyuk ran straight for the boards and jumped into the glass as the capacity crowd of 21,273 roared in approval, giving him a standing ovation for reaching the milestone.
"It was only the second period and everyone was going crazy on the bench, I think every single guy congratulated me," Galchenyuk said. "I was trying to stay focused, but at that moment I couldn't."
The emotion was evident on Galchenyuk's face when he came out to another standing ovation when he was named the game's first star.
"In Montreal they are so passionate about hockey," he said. "It was phenomenal; you can't describe that feeling."
Tomas Plekanec also scored for the Canadiens (1-1-0) and Price made 27 saves in goal.
After opening the season with an impressive 5-1 win at home against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Panthers (1-2-0) lost for the second time in as many nights. They were blanked 4-0 in Ottawa on Monday.
In a shortened season, a two-game losing streak can become more of a concern than it normally would, but center Stephen Weiss said it's not time to be overly worried.
"I think in the back of your mind, yes, but we're three games in and it's not time to hit the panic button," Weiss said of the sense of urgency the last two games could create. "We've got some new guys, some new faces, and we haven't had a lot of time to practice so we have to learn on the fly. It's not the end of the world, we lost two in a row and we just have to regroup and stay positive."
Markov's two goals snapped a long drought for the oft-injured defenseman.
His last goal came on Nov. 10, 2010, against the Vancouver Canucks, but because of a serious knee injury since that time, he had gone only 16 games without one. Still, after waiting 26 months between goals, Markov got two in a span of 15:07.
"What do you mean finally?" he responded incredulously when he was asked about ending his drought.
But more importantly, Markov has shown over the past two games that he may be on the way to becoming the dominant player he was before two knee reconstructions limited him to playing 20 games the past two seasons.
He's not as fast as he once was, but he's still a highly intelligent playmaker and defender who's able to snuff out opposing rushes before they materialize and put pucks on teammates sticks they never saw coming.
"He was a real leader, a general on our defense," Therrien said. "The way that he controlled the game, the way he was able to shut down big players on the other side, his attitude, the way he plays the game, he was a real leader out there."
Carrying a 4-1 lead into the third period, the Canadiens gave the Panthers a golden opportunity to get back into the game when Ryan White went after Tomas Fleischmann for hitting defenseman Josh Gorges from behind at 3:13 of the third period. White was given an instigator penalty and a fighting major while Fleischmann was only given a minor penalty, giving Florida a five-minute power play. Markov was then called for interference at 6:37, giving the Panthers 1:36 of a two-man advantage.
"It was a crucial moment," Therrien said. "Ryan White stood up for Josh Gorges, but it's a fine line between standing up for your teammates and being undisciplined. What I appreciated the most is that the guys rallied to that and made sure they were going to kill the penalty for Ryan White."
Florida managed only two shots on goal during the five-minute power play and never really threatened to score, snuffing out any chance the Panthers may have had to get back in the game.
"We were just a little disorganized," Weiss said. "We talked about wanting to score early on the five minutes to give ourselves a chance at another one, and I think we were just rushing a little bit. When you do that you end up getting out of synch and chasing the puck back in your zone."
Gallagher wasn't the only rookie making his NHL debut as the Panthers dressed Drew Shore in place of Mike Santorelli, and the No. 44 pick in the 2010 draft had a great scoring chance with 3:20 left in regulation but he was robbed by a nice pad save by Price.
Alex Kovalev was making a return to the building where he made the fans rise out of their seats over his five years with the Canadiens, but his most remarkable play of the game came on a goal for the home team when he missed a defensive assignment to allow Plekanec to open the scoring at 3:26 of the first period on a one-timer from the slot.
Markov got his first on a power play at 13:24, rifling a slap shot top corner past a helpless Clemmensen.
"I just closed my eyes and I shot it," Markov deadpanned.
Tomas Kopecky got Florida on the board with a power play goal at 4:33 with a rocket of a one-timer off a Fleischmann feed, but Markov got his second on another power-play point shot at 8:31 to re-establish Montreal's two-goal lead.
That set the stage for Galchenyuk's goal at 14:25, blowing the roof off the Bell Centre and effectively ending Florida's chances of staging a comeback.