MONTREAL -- Max Pacioretty stole the spotlight from the much-anticipated pre-Olympic battle between Carey Price and Roberto Luongo.
Pacioretty failed to convert two second-period penalty shots but still scored three goals to lead the Montreal Canadiens to a 5-2 victory against the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night.
The U.S. Olympian scored a power-play goal 14:59 into the game, then failed to beat Luongo twice after becoming the first player in NHL history to be awarded two penalty shots in the same period. But he scored again 4:45 into the third period and capped his second hat trick of the season by hitting the empty net with 1:08 to play.
"If we had lost that game by one goal, I'd have been kicking myself in the head," said Pacioretty, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals.
Luongo is 5-for-5 on penalty shots this season; three of the saves have come against Pacioretty, who also failed on one when the teams met in Vancouver on Oct. 12.
“My only other penalty shot in the NHL is against Roberto Luongo, I tried the same move tonight and I definitely had him swimming with the fake shot, I thought I could beat him with a shot instead of a deke, but he’s such a big goalie and he leans forward, he took up so much of the net and it kind of threw me off,” Pacioretty said. “The second one, I think at that point I was just in my own head. I couldn’t believe that was even happening, I was pretty tired as well. If we’d lost the game I would be pretty upset right now, but obviously I can joke about it.”
Price made a better case than Luongo to be named as Canada's starter when the 2014 Sochi Games begin next week by stopping 42 shots. Afterward, Price was still more focused on the Canadiens and the fact his team had one game remaining before the Olympic break. He was also heaping praise on his teammates.
“It’s all about your preparation, I believe, it comes down to getting help from your guys in front of you and allowing you to see the hockey puck,” Price said. “This was a big game for us, the standings are really tight, those were a really valuable two points. With the break coming close, we wanted to get a couple of really good games in and catch up a little bit.”
Luongo denied Pacioretty's penalty-shot attempts but allowed four goals on 28 shots for the Canucks, who lost their sixth in a row despite getting 44 shots at Price.
"All we can do is continue working at this and earn some good bounces," coach John Tortorella said. "We aren't hanging our heads."
Forwards Ryan White and Tomas Plekanec also scored for the Canadiens (31-21-6) who have won two straight games and trail the second-place Tampa Bay Lightning by a point in the Atlantic Division. Chris Higgins and Alexander Edler scored power-play goals for the Canucks (27-23-9) who held on to the last wild-card spot in the Western Conference because the Winnipeg Jets lost 4-2 to the Washington Capitals.
"The only way to get out of this is to work hard," Luongo said. "If we feel sorry for ourselves, it's only going to get worse."
Luongo allowed goals to Pacioretty and White in a 63-second span late in the first period. After Higgins scored the lone goal of the second period, Pacioretty and Plekanec beat Luongo in a 3:29 span of the third period to make it 4-1.
At the other end, Price came up big throughout but his solid play was crucial in the first two periods when the Canucks outshot the Canadiens 27-17.
“Why lose that battle? That’s the only thing we can do as a club right now is to stay positive,” Tortorella said. “I thought the bench was alive and in between periods. They played hard. That won’t be a problem. That’s my job is to make sure we’re ready to play next game. That’s all you can do is continue to work at this, force some good bounces your way and stay with it.”
The Canucks were again without captain Henrik Sedin, who will miss the Sochi Games with a rib injury. The team said Sedin is "very confident" he'll be ready to go when the Canucks resume play on Feb. 26.
"It was an easier decision to make knowing we'd won gold before," Sedin said of his decision not to play. "This rest will be important for me to help us win."
The Canucks will try to snap their losing streak and avoid going 0-for-4 on their road trip when they visit the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday. The Canadiens finish their pre-Olympic schedule on the road against the Caroline Hurricanes on Saturday.