Last night we witnessed the fifth goaltender to mind the net for the Montreal Canadiens this season; the most goalies to play in one season since 2001-02. Fresh from playing in the NCAA just a few weeks ago, free-agent signee Charlie Lindgren was inked to a two-year, two-way contract with the Habs on March 30th.
He was able to burn the first year of his contract immediately by joining the NHL club and having the opportunity to learn from one of the best goalie coaches, Stephane Waite, and the best netminder on the planet in Carey Price.
Coming into his NHL debut with a 30-9-1 record, and his family in the stands at the PNC Arena, one would expect Lindgren to feel a little pressure.
We'll chalk it up to nerves when Carolina Hurricanes forward Riley Nash got a one-timer past Lindgren on the first shot of the game at just 1:34 in the opening frame. Shortly after, a nice backcheck by Greg Pateryn helped thwart a chance that could have led to a second goal, and that allowed Lindgren to finally settle in, only looking stronger as the game went on.
This was the last road trip for the Habs for this season, and although their playoff chances are long gone, the Canadiens were the most organized they've been in a long time. They managed to stay that way for the full 60 minutes. They played as a team, taking the time to set up plays, pass the puck, and take shots.
A slick pass over the head of a Hurricane defenceman by Max Pacioretty led to Alex Galchenyuk picking up the puck and heading straight for Cam Ward, but his shot went square off the post. Just when it looked like the Hurricanes were going to use their luck to escape to the locker room with a 1-0 lead, the Canadiens tied it up.
With the help of Brendan Gallagher doing what he does best, and a nice drop pass by the captain, Darren Dietz kept his cool and showed much patience skating toward the net before scoring his first NHL goal with just 9.9 seconds left in the first period. That milestone goal also bumped Pacioretty up to a new career high of 33 assists.
Just five minutes into the second period, Noah Hanifin sniped one from the blue line and straight past Lindgren who didn't see it coming through an Alexei Emelin screen.
Pacioretty and Galchenyuk continued to fuel the spark between them, but had difficulty connecting to get one past Ward.
That is, until Pacioretty tied the game with his 28th goal of the season — matching Galchenyuk's total — on a shot that had Ward kicking himself as the puck went up over his shoulder and off his arm, dropping into the net behind him.
Daniel Carr was up next, when a little over three minutes later he got his team the first lead of the night, scoring his sixth goal of the season with a sneaky little redirect of a shot by Tomas Plekanec.
A well-timed hit by Pateryn broke up a two-on-one play, and Lindgren kept it a one-goal game when he went post-to-post, and held his position on four shot attempts from Patrick Brown. With a final whack at the puck, Brown finally found the back of the net, but it occurred after the whistle, and was waved off.
Early in the third, Pateryn continued his dynamic defensive duties when he helped out his netminder by swiping away the puck that looked like it was going to slide over the goal line.
Looking for his second of the night, Dietz threw the puck at the net, but it was Lars Eller who swooped in for the rebound to make it a more comfortable score of 4-2.
Andrei Markov took the only penalty of the evening with a high sticking call immediately after the goal, but the Habs had no trouble with the penalty kill. Lindgren made some beautiful saves in the dying minutes of the game, even going old school at one point when he stacked his pads to prevent a rebound. Lindgren made 26 saves in his night of firsts: a first-star performance got him his first victory in his first NHL game.
Before the game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Brendan Gallagher said "we're going to do every thing we can to try and make sure it's a positive night for him." Looks like Gallagher and his teammates were true to their word.
- The fight to be Carey Price back-up for the 2016-17 season is going to be very interesting.
- Charlie Lindgren played with poise and confidence, making some impressive saves and had good rebound control. It was nice to see him get the win. I look forward to seeing him between the pipes for the Habs again in the near future.
- After being a healthy scratch in the first half of the season, Greg Pateryn has proven that he deserves a permanent spot in the lineup next year. His ice time has grown, and not just because of the injuries, but his skill. He was second among defencemen in time on ice at 23:49; just one second behind veteran Alexei Emelin.
- Lars Eller is determined to play hard to the bitter end. His puck possession has been very impressive these past few games, and his goal was much deserved.
- Some people think the Habs need more enforcers, but Mike Brown really seems to pick fights just because he can.
The last day to make an impression with on-ice effort comes Saturday night at home to the Tampa Bay Lightning. You can expect a hard-fought game as the Habs go for the season sweep of their divisional rival.