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McCarron a hit for Canadiens in home debut

Big rookie has key assist, adds energy in win vs. Maple Leafs

by Dave Stubbs @dave_stubbs / Columnist/Historian

MONTREAL -- It was to be Michael McCarron's first regular-season home game for the Montreal Canadiens; his two previous NHL games were played in Dallas and Nashville in December. So it was understandable that the big center might have a few nerves.

That's normal for any farmhand being summoned by his NHL club, with just hours to prepare mentally for the challenge at hand.

But the butterflies, McCarron admitted, were most plentiful midday Saturday in Philadelphia, where he sat aboard a delayed flight, the ticking of the clock growing louder by the minute.

"I was supposed to get in pretty early," McCarron said with a grin after the Canadiens' 4-1 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Bell Centre. "I'm sitting there and sitting there, [thinking] 'I've got to make this game, I'm in the lineup tonight.'

"The jitters were there, but luckily enough I got here in time."

As it turned out, McCarron arrived about 2 ½ hours later than scheduled, three hours before the pregame warm-up. He went to Bell Centre straight from Montreal-Trudeau Airport, skipping the chance to drop a bag at a downtown hotel.

McCarron and fellow St. John's IceCaps teammate Morgan Ellis were summoned by the Canadiens after their American Hockey League game Friday night in Utica, N.Y. McCarron knew that he'd face the Maple Leafs, though Ellis, a defenseman, would not.

The pair left Utica late Friday and drove 90 minutes to Syracuse, N.Y., then flew Saturday morning to Philadelphia, from where they'd connect to Montreal. But they were delayed in Philadelphia, and the nerves started to build.

"I was texting Flower a bit, letting him know when we were taking off," McCarron said of messaging Alain Gagnon, the Canadiens' team services coordinator.

"But everything turned out great. The night couldn't have turned out better."

McCarron, a 20-year-old native of Grosse Point, Mich., shook out the butterflies once the puck dropped and played an impressive role in the Canadiens' second goal, midway through the second period.

McCarron used each of his 231 advertised pounds, spread over his 6-foot-6 frame, to full advantage on the play. His wrecking-ball forecheck into the corner kept the pressure on the Maple Leafs, and then he bulled his way from behind to in front of the Toronto net, giving defenseman Frank Corrado more than he could handle.

All that was left was for linemate Devante Smith-Pelly to stuff a puck lying at goalie Jonathan Bernier's feet into the net after Montreal defenseman Alexei Emelin's shot caromed off McCarron across the crease.

The goal, at 10:39, put the Canadiens ahead 2-1 and turned out to be the game-winner

"That my game. That's what I bring to this team," McCarron said after earning his first NHL point with the primary assist. "I bring energy and my big body, get pucks behind the [defense] and finish my checks. That leads to turnovers. It happened a couple times tonight with my linemates and myself. …

Video: TOR@MTL: Smith-Pelly's goal gives Canadiens 2-1 lead

"It was so loud in there, when we first came out onto the ice," he added of the Bell Centre atmosphere. "Fans here are great, as everybody knows, they cheer us really well. It was a great time out there tonight."

McCarron made the most of his 10:17 of ice time, finishing with five shots on goal and four hits.

He has 15 goals and 19 assists in 53 games with St. John's this season. This call-up, which the Canadiens say will last through season's end, will give him an excellent opportunity to show what he can do with his size and, perhaps, his soft hands.

"Probably not for a little while," McCarron joked about demonstrating a prolific scoring touch. "Probably not for a couple years."

In fact, the focus before the game wasn't on McCarron, but on Phillip Danault, who was acquired Friday in a trade that sent forwards Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann to the Chicago Blackhawks. Chicago's second-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft accompanied Danault to Montreal.

The 23-year-old newcomer wasn't on pregame ice more than, oh, 17 seconds before he was called over to the boards for a French-language TV interview.

The newest member of the Canadiens, a native of Victoriaville, Quebec, indeed would be the celebrity of the hour as he arrived in this city.

Danault played 14:17, had one shot on goal and finished minus-1. At night's end, however, having skated a good game with his new team, winning 15 of his 19 faceoffs (79 percent), he wouldn't be playing the lead violin.

That honor was shared by captain Max Pacioretty, who scored two goals; Lars Eller, who played a terrific, industrial-strength game as his name circulated in NHL Trade Deadline rumors; and skyscraping McCarron, who played like a tractor in his first game since being called up.

There was more energy in the building than the significance of the game would merit, with the Canadiens and Maple Leafs playing out the string toward an early April exit. But the racket was largely because of the healthy, customary number of Toronto fans in attendance when these two old rivals meet on a Saturday night.

The Maple Leafs broke the ice 5:29 into the first period when Matt Hunwick cashed a rebound on a 2-on-1 break against Canadiens goalie Mike Condon, bringing a roar from those decked out in blue and white. But the majority, wearing Canadiens colors, outdid that commotion three minutes later when Alex Galchenyuk rifled a short-side shot over Bernier's shoulder.

Montreal went ahead to stay on Smith-Pelly's goal, then put it away in the third period on the 22nd and 23rd of the season by Pacioretty, who nearly completed a hat trick but was foiled by Bernier on a breakaway.

The Canadiens head west for games against the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and Winnipeg Jets before returning to Bell Centre on March 8. Among the passengers will be Michael McCarron, on his first extended voyage with the Canadiens.

"I'm really excited," he said. "I've never been to any of those West Coast (cities)."

The good news is, if his plane is delayed on any tarmac, he won't be the only player stuck on the ground.

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