Thanks to goaltender Carey Price, the Montreal Canadiens continued their mastery of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Price made 28 saves for his 20th victory of the season and the Canadiens defeated the Hurricanes 3-1 at PNC Arena on Monday.
Jiri Sekac and Lars Eller scored second-period goals for Montreal, which has won four in a row against Carolina and is 7-0-2 in its past nine games against the struggling Hurricanes. The Canadiens (23-11-2) have won three in a row overall and are 2-0-0 on a five-game road trip that continues against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday.
Price stopped the first 19 shots he faced before Hurricanes captain Eric Staal scored a power-play goal early in the third period. Montreal's Max Pacioretty hit the empty net with 22.1 seconds remaining.
Price has allowed one goal in each of Montreal's past three games. He is 6-1-0 in his past seven starts and has allowed no more than two goals in any of those games.
“It’s the same story every night. We’re used to him bailing us out, but we have to play better in front of him,” Pacioretty told the Canadiens website. “We love that he’s playing so well, but in this room, we all know we owe him a couple of games and a lot of goals. Hopefully down the road we can do that for him, but he’s the story every night. He’s the MVP tonight.”
Cam Ward made 16 saves for Carolina (10-22-4), which is last in the Metropolitan Division and 29th in the overall standings.
"Give credit to Price, he played well again," said Carolina forward Jiri Tlusty, who returned after missing seven games with an upper-body injury. "We have to bear down and be hungry in front of the net."
Montreal had the first four shots on goal, but Carolina's Riley Nash had the best chances in the early going. Price stopped Nash on a wide-open one-timer from 10 feet and made another save on the rebound 4:48 into the game, then robbed him again two minutes later after Nash was left all alone just outside the crease.
"I had a couple of chances tonight that I'd like to have back," Nash said. "Price made some big saves. It would have been big early on for us to have the lead. But he's a world-class goalie and he got the better of me."
Ward made his best stop of the period with seven minutes remaining when he gloved Sekac's slap shot from inside the left circle. The Canadiens appeared to score on Ward at 17:07, only to have referee Gord Dwyer immediately wave it off, ruling that Montreal forward Brendan Gallagher had interfered with Ward in the crease.
Jordan Staal nearly put Carolina ahead 5:14 into the second period, but Price made a superb play to stop his deflection on the power play. It was Staal's first game of the season; he broke his right fibula early in training camp.
The Canadiens went ahead 6:45 into the second when Sekac, whose penalty set up Jordan Staal's chance, carried the puck down the left wall, reversed to shake free of a checker, then backhanded a shot through traffic and past Ward as he skated across the slot. It was his seventh goal of the season.
It was a bounce-back night for Sekac, who struggled in Montreal's previous game against the New York Islanders on Dec. 23.
"He was hungry and he was quick to the puck and made good decisions," Montreal coach Michel Therrien said.
Eller gave the Canadiens a two-goal lead at 18:45 with his eighth of the season. Defenseman Sergei Gonchar pinched to keep the puck in at the right point and fed Dale Weise. He slipped a backhand pass to Eller near the right faceoff dot for a quick shot that beat Ward high to the far side.
The goal was the 21,000th in franchise history, including the Canadiens’ tenure in the National Hockey Association as well as the NHL.
"We had the power play we didn't score on, and they scored as soon as the guy comes out of the box, so that's a huge turning point in the game," Carolina coach Bill Peters said. "The second one, it looks like we're there, but we're not."
Eric Staal, playing in his 800th regular-season game, cut Montreal's lead in half 2:59 into the third period when he nudged home a rebound for his eighth goal of the season. But the Hurricanes couldn't get the tying goal despite outshooting the Canadiens 13-4 in the third period.
“The guys are playing extremely well in front of me, especially tonight,” Price said. “I left a lot of rebounds out there in front of the net and guys were sagging down into the house and doing a great job around the net. You have to attribute all that success to them.
“They got a few shots in the third period, but the majority of those shots weren’t top quality chances. I have to give my teammates credit for that.”