Montreal rolled into Minnesota after a successful three-game week with a pair of wins over the Senators, and a nail-biting win in Chicago over the Blackhawks. Noah Juulsen returned to the lineup after suffering a facial injury a few weeks ago, while in net Antti Niemi got the nod after Carey Price started most of the past few contests.
As for the Minnesota Wild, they were still missing captain Mikko Koivu,who is sidelined with an injury suffered in a knee-on-knee hit against Calgary. After a rough outing in his previous contest, Devan Dubnyk started for Bruce Boudreau in net.
In the early going it was the Wild creating chances in the Montreal end, including a nearly perfect 2-on-1 chance, but Antti Niemi was sharp despite sitting for seven games. Around the net the Finnish netminder was on high alert as a Zach Parise chance bounced off of Jeff Petry’s skate, smothering that before any sort of damage could be done.
The Canadiens responded with pressure of their own, courtesy for Max Domi’s line and Noah Juulsen on the point. A strong cycle kept the Wild hemmed into their zone as Juulsen and Jordie Benn peppered Dubnyk with shots, but could not find an opening goal.
The Wild would be the ones to break the deadlock late in the first period. With Jonas Brodin having a clean lane to the net, he let a low slapshot go from the blue line. A smart tip by Nino Niederreiter sent the puck past Niemi and allowed Minnesota to claim a late first period lead.
The Canadiens had a solid pushback after the goal, with Brett Kulak causing a scramble in front of the net with a great shot and then Shea Weber ripping a puck in on Dubnyk as well. A nervy moment closed out the period in Montreal’s zone as the puck went right through Niemi’s crease, but no further damage was done.
It was another low-event start to the second period, with neither side truly establishing control over the game. In fact, it was over five minutes before the first real scoring chance happened, with Niederreiter taking a breakaway pass off a Jesperi Kotkaniemi turnover and storming in on Niemi. He was stoned on his breakaway chance, and from there the Canadiens took the offensive control back.
Brendan Gallagher and Jonathan Drouin both created great chances that had Dubnyk scrambling in his net, but neither forward could bury the puck.
Minnesota added to their lead despite being outplayed in the middle frame, a Shea Weber cross-check sent the Wild to the man advantage. Sans their best penalty-killer, the Canadiens surrendered a second goal, as Matt Dumba finished off a perfect pass from Mikael Granlund to double his side’s lead.
Even a Canadiens power play ended up hurting Montreal after falling behind 2-0, with Charlie Coyle striking on a three-man rush while short-handed. A poor pass from Drouin turned into an odd-man break, and Weber ended up being spun around by Coyle, who slid a backhand over Niemi for the Wild’s third goal.
Things continued to spiral from there, with a defensive miscommunication leading to Eric Staal getting a pair of clean looks, and slotting home his own rebound for a 4-0 lead.
A spirited tilt between Nicolas Deslauriers and Nick Seeler highlighted what was a testy end to the second period. Andrew Shaw had words with Greg Pateryn before taking a late slashing call. A fifth Wild goal was the result, coming with just two seconds left on the clock.
Montreal flew out of the gate to start the third, immediately getting a great look on Dubnyk, which was immediately followed up with a high-sticking penalty. It wouldn’t take long for a wide-open Dumba to snipe his second of the night and continue the scoreboard domination.
The strong play of the fourth line continued with Michael Chaput’s forecheck creating a turnover and then setting up a goal for Jeff Petry. Chaput’s pass came out from behind the net and Petry stepped into a massive slapshot that made its way through Marcus Foligno’s legs, and just over Dubnyk’s pads to break up the shutout bid.
The joy was short-lived, as Chaput took a tripping penalty, and less than a minute later a Zach Parise breakaway made it a 7-1 game.
Carey Price took over the net from Niemi. He too was immediately greeted by a breakaway and forced to turn away a shot just moments after entering the game.
Outside of Andrew Shaw and J.T. Brown, each being handed misconducts for unsportsmanlike behaviour, the game ended with a whimper, and Montreal searching for a way to rebound in their next game.
They’ll meet the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night, and it will be a stern test as Carolina continues to be a great shot-generating team while being good on the defensive side of the puck as well. Montreal bullied them in their last contest, and they’ll be looking to do the same again.