MONTREAL - Matt Beleskey scored the winner in the third period to lead the visiting Anaheim Ducks to a 2-1 victory over Montreal on Thursday, on a night where the Canadiens lost their top scorer Max Pacioretty to injury.
Hampus Lindholm also scored for Anaheim (22-7-5). Frederik Andersen made 23 saves for his 18th win of the year.
David Desharnais was the lone goal scorer for Montreal (20-11-2), while Carey Price stopped 21 shots in defeat.
Pacioretty left the game four minutes into the third period after taking a late hit into the boards by Anaheim's Clayton Stoner. Pacioretty, who never saw Stoner coming, spent several seconds on his knees on the ice before being helped to the dressing room by the Canadiens training staff. There was no call on the play.
A few minutes later, Brandon Prust and Stoner dropped the gloves, with the Habs winger sending the defenceman to the ice.
Bruce Boudreau's men have now won eight of their last nine games.
With P.K. Subban just stepping out of the penalty box, Beleskey scored the winner ??? his team-leading 15th goal of the year ??? by beating Price top corner, blocker-side at 8:33 of the third period.
Prior to puck drop, the Canadiens honoured former captain Saku Koivu, who retired from professional hockey in September after 13 seasons with the Habs and another five with the Ducks. After a video montage of tributes from fans, former teammates and trainers, an emotional Koivu thanked the city he called home for most of his career.
"I feel honoured and privileged to have served nine years as captain of the Montreal Canadiens," Koivu told the Bell Centre crowd. "Montreal truly is the most exciting place to play hockey. I'm truly humbled, and this night means so much to me and to my family. I will always be a Hab at heart."
When the puck finally dropped, Anaheim quickly showed the Habs faithful why the team from Southern California is at the top of the NHL standings.
The Ducks ran rings around the Canadiens from the get-go, at a time hemming Montreal's fourth line in its own zone for nearly three minutes. Montreal countered with desperation icings, and head coach Michel Therrien was even forced to take a timeout very early in the game. Shots were 7-1 in favour of Anaheim at that point.
Price could do little to stop the Ducks' eighth shot, as Lindholm rifled a puck through two bodies and into the back of the net at 8:16 of the first. Recently-traded Hab Rene Bourque screened Price on the shot.
The Canadiens, the league's worst first-period team, failed to score in the opening 20 minutes for the 23rd time this season.
Montreal's most threatening line was its first, with Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher giving Andersen the most trouble throughout the encounter. Glachenyuk, coming off his first career hat trick on Tuesday, missed a wide open net to Andersen's left in the first period, while Gallagher forced Anaheim's goaltender to make back-to-back sprawling saves late in the second.
Shortly after Pacioretty headed to the dressing room with his injury, the Canadiens tied the game at 5:27 of the third. With Patrick Maroon in the box for interference, Desharnais fired a one-timer past Andersen after a clever cross-ice pass from Andrei Markov.
Sergei Gonchar came close to tying in the game's final minute with Montreal's net empty, but the veteran blue-liner instead found the outside of the post.
Notes: Forward Sven Andrighetto was sent down to the American Hockey League's Hamilton Bulldogs on Wednesday. The 21-year-old amassed three points in four games with Montreal this season. ??? Corey Perry missed the game with a knee injury sustained on Dec. 5. ??? Lars Eller was not in the lineup (upper-body injury) despite taking part in the pre-game skate. ??? Markov, Price, Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec presented Koivu with a commemorative painting before the game.