The Montreal Canadiens seem to have their swagger back.
They headed into the matchup with the New York Rangers riding a four-game winning streak, having Carey Price back in top form, and Alex Galchenyuk beginning to find his rhythm with five points (3G, 2A) in those last four games. Thanks to all of those factors, the Canadiens held their place at the top of the Atlantic Division and gave themselves a little breathing room.
The Habs had to power through without the enthusiastic heart of Alexander Radulov last night. Radulov watched from the sidelines with a day-to-day lower-body injury while newcomers Steve Ott and Andreas Martinsen suited up for their Habs debut.
Heading into Saturday’s game, they had 80 points; six points ahead of the second-place Ottawa Senators. The Rangers sat in fourth place of the Metropolitan Division with 84 points. If the playoffs started today, these two teams would go head-to-head in the first round.
It was all Montreal right out of the gate. Once the Rangers realized the Habs came to play, they also began to pick up the pace, making for a fast opening period. The quick pace continued for a full 60 minutes.
Fourteen minutes in, Jeff Petry took an awkward fall after a check on Pavel Buchnevich. The fall was concerning for a minute, since it looked as if he had hurt his leg somehow. Thankfully, when he left the ice he was holding a towel to his face after Buchnevich’s stick caught him in the nose.
Petry returned to the bench, good as new.
If you happened to blink at the seven-minute mark, you may have missed Shea Weber’s 15th goal of the season. The fast sequence of Ott winning the faceoff, Pacioretty picking up the puck and passing to Weber, and a wrist shot fooling Lundqvist after it deflected off Adam Clendening’s skate made it 1-0 for the Canadiens.
The Rangers picked up their shot attempts with just over one minute remaining. A shot by Buchnevich managed to get past Price but hit the bottom of the goalpost. A nice blocked shot by Torrey Mitchell on Ryan McDonagh saw Mitchell heading to the bench afterwards.
Early into the second period, Brendan Gallagher blocked a shot by Andrei Markov. The result was a hard puck to the foot and Gallagher headed to the bench wincing.
The Rangers piled on the pressure during the middle of the frame. Price held off a flurry of shots before the Habs got the puck into the offensive zone, where some good work from Max Pacioretty opened up a passing opportunity for Phillip Danault, allowing Artturi Lehkonen to break his goal drought and make it 2-0.
Every Habs fan either held their breath or lost their mind (or both) when Rick Nash nearly took Price’s head off. Not with a puck, no. His body. Price came out to make a save and Nash crashed into him, knocking him to the ice.
It was the third scare of the night for Habs fans, but again, everyone is fine.
A turnover by Alexei Emelin almost helped put the Rangers on the board, but Price turned the shot away with a pokecheck. During the final five minutes of the period, the Rangers had the Canadiens stuck in their own zone until Price finally jumped on the puck to stop the play and settle things down.
After a shoulder save by Lundqvist on a wrister by Andrew Shaw, the Rangers’ goaltender lost sight of the puck and seemed to be frozen in his net. Shaw took advantage, continuing the play by sneaking behind the net for a wraparound into a wide-open net to give the Habs a three-goal lead.
Heading into the third, we had yet to see a penalty, and the Canadiens were out-shooting and out-hitting the Rangers. However, 1:44 minutes in, a wrist shot by Chris Kreider made it 3-1, crushing any shutout hopes.
After his dazed state that allowed Shaw to slip one past him, Lundqvist was sharp during the first half of the third, stopping a shot and rebound by Pacioretty and breaking out a windmill save from Ott’s shot.
With seven minutes left, Lehkonen headed to the front of the net, taking the Rangers defensemen with him. This gave Jordie Benn the opportunity to notch his first goal as a Hab, and make it 4-1.
A Gallagher-Lundqvist collision saw the first penalties of the night with Gallagher and Marc Staal taking a seat, giving us a little four-on-four hockey with three minutes left. Seconds later, Paul Byron drew a hooking penalty to give the Canadiens their first power-play of the night, which they used to run out the clock and claim their fifth straight victory.
The Canadiens now have a record of 6-2-0 under their new coach, and will look to improve that even further when they begin their Western Canadian trip against the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night.