Dealing with several injuries in key areas, the Montreal Canadiens were still on a roll heading into Friday night's game versus the New Jersey Devils. Taking a three-game winning streak they'd achieved with a win over their nearest Eastern Conference challenger, the New York Rangers, on Wednesday, the Habs travelled a shot distance down the road to try to extend the run to four.
The effort in the first period wasn't nearly good enough to generate a win, with misplays and bad passes giving the majority of the zone time to the home team.
The Canadiens managed to head to the dressing room scoreless, despite being outshot 9-5 in the period.
One of those five shots, however, was the best chance either team had in the period, as Tomas Plekanec took a cross-ice pass from Max Pacioretty, and Cory Schneider dove across the net to make a spectacular glove save.
Sven Andrighetto was one of the few players putting in the effort necessary to get a positive result, and was able to draw the Habs' only power play of the opening 20 minutes by driving to the net and forcing Lee Stempniak to take him down to prevent a great scoring opportunity.
Despite being down a man, the Devils were able to maintain their momentum through the penalty kill, turning some overly aggressive net drives from the Canadiens blue-liners into odd-man rushes the other way.
The other recent call-up from the St . John's IceCaps, Bud Holloway struggled a bit on a makeshift fourth line, having a team-low shot-attempts-for percentage of 16.7% in just 7:19 second of play. A fairly steady stream of penalties through the first half of the game didn't allow much chance for Michel Therrien to use his preferred strategy of giving the lines relatively even playing time.
In the second period, the Devils got rewarded for being the better team, as a poor line change by the Canadiens' top line allowed the Devils to launch a four-on-two rush, and a sequence of back-and forth passes opened up a shot for Adam Henrique. Mike Condon, who initially lost track of the puck during the play, reacted to get a glove on the puck, but not enough to prevent it from going in the net.
Andrighetto maintained his good form, drawing another penalty about a minute after the Canadiens surrendered the first goal, though his team was unable to capitalize on the advantage he had created.
The Devils fared better on their next power play, as they had three attackers low in the zone versus two Habs defenders, with Stempniak being the unmarked man at the side of the net. He took a pass and had his initial shot stopped by Condon, but faced no opposition as he whacked away at the rebound, and eventually stuffed it in.
Combined with the earlier troubles giving up chances when they were the team up a man, it wasn't a good night for the special teams through the first forty minutes.
With the second period coming to an end, it looked like Montreal was just over 20 minutes away from having their winning streak snapped, but Sven Andrighetto took a no-look cross-ice pass from Lars Eller with just under five minutes to play, and scored for the second game in a row to cut the deficit in half.
The power play came to life in the third period, with a five-man unit consisting of Pacioretty, Plekanec, and Alex Galchenyuk up front, with P.K Subban and Andrei Markov backing them up. They moved the puck around the zone with speed and precision to set up several chances as they applied constant pressure on the Devils for nearly the entire two minutes.
They weren't able to score, but the line stayed together for its next shift, and Pacioretty sent a saucer pass from near his own goal line to Alex Galchenyuk at the top of the defensive zone. Galchenyuk raced past the two defenders that were lined up on either side of him after the pass was completed, and was coasting as he unleashed his stickhandling ability in front of Schneider, deking to the backhand and making no mistake on the quick shot to tie the game with less than nine minutes remaining.
Andrei Markov recorded his 400 career assist on the play, and became just the third defenceman in the history of the Canadiens franchise to reach that mark.
The overtime period had the teams trading rushes until Sven Andrighetto found himself on the opposite side of an infraction, getting called for holding midway through the five-minute three-on-three period. Therrien deserves some credit for putting the rookie out in a key situation that catered to his offensive strengths.
Plekanec ensured that Andrighetto would not be left to shoulder the blame for a loss by chipping the puck out of the zone on the penalty and skating in on a short-handed breakaway. Eric Gelinas got his stick into Plekanec's hands to throw off the shot. It probably would have resulted in a penalty shot if the Habs had not been short-handed at the time, but a negation of the power play and a start in the Devils end with 90 seconds to go may have been the better result in this case.
The Canadiens had some good looks on the shortened power play once Andrighetto was released, including a point-blank cross-crease play from Pacioretty, but Schneider was on top of them all, and 65 minutes was not enough time to decide a winner.
Alex Galchenyuk was up first in the shootout. This time dealing with no pressure from behind, he was able to use his full complement of dekes. By the time he was ready to take the shot, he had Schneider at his mercy and potted the goal to put the Devils on their heels right off the bat.
Mike Cammalleri's low wrist shot and David Desharnais' in-close slap shot were stopped on the next two attempts, before Jacob Josefson got the better of Condon with a deke to tie it up after the first two rounds.
Max Pacioretty attacked with speed on his chance but shot the forehand attempt wide, giving Stempniak the chance to win it for the Devils.
Stempniak made a good move, but Condon got just enough of the backhand shot to alter its trajectory, and the puck went off the post and out the other side.
After Eller and Henrique were stopped on their attempts, Andrighetto came out to begin the fifth round (more credit to Therrien for not gluing him to the bench after his overtime penalty), and he fired a shot off the post and in.
was ready to congratulate his forward on the game winning goal, but he soon realized it was a premature celebration, and the game needed one more save from him.
Patrik Elias deked to his forehand, and it looked like Condon was down and out, but he made a last- second desperate lunge to get his leg to the post and deny the Devils veteran, securing the 3-2 shootout victory.
With the win, Condon improved to 8-2-2 on the season, having more wins in a expanded backup role than two NHL franchises.
It will be interesting to see whether he gets the call in a tomorrow's home half of the back-to-back set with the Devils, or if Dustin Tokarski will get his first NHL start of the season. The Canadiens can hit the 40-point plateau with a win on Saturday night.