It was not a regular Thursday night in Montreal. P.K. Subban returned to Bell Centre ice, in front of a packed and loud building, to play against his former team for the first time. The building buzzed throughout warm-ups, for which Subban was the last Predators player to leave the ice. Prior to the monthly Molson Cup ceremony, a touching tribute video was shown to the crowd to celebrate P.K.’s return.
The moment, along with the cheering Montreal crowd, were too much for Subban to contain his emotions.
subban tears would normally be my sustenance but THIS MAKES ME SAD pic.twitter.com/Gy8qXo8zce— steph (@myregularface) March 3, 2017
After the Habs’ classy tribute ended, Canadiens’ captain Max Pacioretty received the Molson Cup for the month of February, his second consecutive month earning the honour.
Finally it was time for the puck to drop. The first minutes were slow going for both teams as they got to feel each other’s game plan out. Nashville would eventually begin mounting a shot advantage but failed to score early on.
At the 12:15 mark, Austin Watson was called for a cross-check on Nathan Beaulieu, sending the Habs to the power play. Montreal would fail to get any shots on net, with Gallagher taking the lone attempt, which was blocked by Mike Fisher.
Near the end of the first period, Andrew Shaw had a momentary lapse of judgement (not his first, won’t be his last) and took a pointless interference penalty by attempting to slow down a puckless Cody McLeod instead of completing his own line change.
While Shaw was in the box, the Nashville Predators’ power play went to work and set up a Ryan Ellis goal, thanks in no small part to smart playmaking by P.K. Subban, who earned an assist on Ellis’ eleventh on the season. Fisher picked up the secondary assist with a beautiful off-the-boards pass to Subban at the point.
The Canadiens would end the first period down by one, out-shot and out-chanced by the Predators.
The second period began with another man advantage opportunity for Montreal, after Calle Jarnkrok was called for high-sticking Tomas Plekanec. While the Habs generated more offence on their second attempt, they once again failed to beat Pekka Rinne.
The first half of the second period saw very little action from either side, though action picked up around the midway point of the game. The Canadiens seemed to find a groove, generate more shots, and close the possession gap on Nashville. With less than one minute left on the clock, Watson flipped a puck over the boards and was given a two-minute minor for delay of game, his second penalty of the night.
Montreal must have been inspired during the second intermission, because they came out of the gates for the third far more aggressive offensively, finally able to connect their passes with a regularity which had escaped them until then.
Finally, just before the eleven minute mark, Brendan Gallagher broke his goal-scoring slump with a Herculean individual effort. The mighty winger created a turnover in the defensive zone, carried the puck into Preds’ territory, fighting checks along the way. Alex Galchenyuk came to help along the boards, immediately getting the puck back to Gallagher, who whipped the puck into the crease area and was rewarded with a bounce into the net.
After Gallagher’s goal, Nashville kicked their offence back into gear. Plekanec was caught nipping Calle Jarnkrok with his stick, and before the whistle could blow, the Predators set up a fearsome 6-man system which allowed for several scoring chances. None went past Carey Price, who was stellar all night long, and Plekanec was eventually sent to the box for hooking.
It felt like P.K. Subban time was inevitable, however the renewed Habs’ penalty kill was up to the task and kept the game tied at one. Overtime seemed once again unavoidable for Montreal, who’s last three (and four of five) have gone beyond 60 minutes.
In the final moments of the third, Paul Byron broke up a blue-line pass between Nashville players, sending the puck careening into the neutral zone. After a quick turn, Byron did what he does best, beat everybody to the loose puck, and finished with a sneaky shot over Rinne’s blocker.
Byron’s goal would be the game winner, and earned Claude Julien his first regulation win since being hired last month. With the 2-1 win, the Habs secured their first win in regulation time since January 31st.
A few narratives have been stopped in their tracks with this win, including the team’s struggles to get the job done in regulation. Carey Price had an outstanding night between the pipes, keeping Nashville to a one goal lead despite their advantage in shots and scoring chances for the first half of the game. He did what Carey Price does, and gave his team a chance to win with few goals on the board. He was rewarded.
Best yet, those rewards came at the hands of two players who desperately needed goals, ridding themselves of monkeys from their backs. Brendan Gallagher scored his seventh goal of the campaign, which was also his first point in 2017 (his last coming against the Florida Panthers on December 29th, 2016). He was clearly pumped with the goal, and it could hardly have been more Gallagher-esque, with the small skater playing the role of a behemoth power forward.
Paul Byron’s last-minute goal was similarly constructed, as he picked up a loose puck which he had created with a smart turnover, and scoring a goal thanks to his speed and hands in close, which is very much his modus operandi.
The Canadiens overcame disadvantages in possession, and in shots, and questionable officiating to walk away with two points against a strong opponent. The night began heavy with emotion and ended with a burst of excitement.
The Habs will now travel to New York to face the Rangers on Saturday night. Montreal won both contests against the Rangers this season, though both were one goal games and a shootout was required to resolve one of them.