The Montreal Canadiens entered Sunday evening’s showdown with the Minnesota Wild on a roll, having beaten the defending Stanley Cup champions twice in the span of a week. They had also shut out the Wild just a few days prior in a game where both Victor Mete and Nick Suzuki tallied their first NHL goals.
Keith Kinkaid took the net for the second time this year, looking for his first win after suffering the loss in overtime against the Buffalo Sabres earlier in the season. The Wild countered with Devan Dubnyk, who was struggling mightily with a 0-5-0 record on the year and a 4.44 goals-against average.
The Canadiens had the early jump, with their top trio of Brendan Gallagher, Phillip Danault and Tomas Tatar getting some zone time and looks against Dubnyk. The Wild netminder stood tall.
The Wild drew the first call of the game, with Artturi Lehkonen’s errant stick cutting Ryan Hartman, and handing Minnesota a four-minute power play. The Canadiens’ shutout streak against the Wild ended just 46 seconds into the first minor. Mikko Koivu threw a shot toward the net, and Jason Zucker got a piece of it with his stick, redirecting it to the back of the net by Kinkaid.
Montreal struggled to get their offence in gear as the first period wore on, and the Wild took advantage by forcing them to defend for lengthy periods. Even when Montreal did manage to bring the puck into the Minnesota zone, they failed to test Dubnyk with anything of real quality as the Wild maintained their one-goal lead late in the first.
Kinkaid had to stand tall in the final minutes of the period, stonewalling the Wild twice in close after his defencemen turned the puck over right in front of his net. Perhaps no saves were bigger than his back-to-back stops on Eric Staal and Jordan Greenway moments before Montreal headed to another penalty kill. On that disadvantage, the Canadiens’ backup netminder was massive once again, reading a cross-crease feed to Zucker perfectly and denying him a second goal before the intermission.
Whatever was said between periods seemed to do the trick for the Canadiens as they flew out of gate to start the second. With Lehkonen drawing a call against Matt Dumba, the suddenly hot power play went to work just over 90 seconds in. The first unit failed to find a tying goal, but the second wave, featuring Max Domi and Jeff Petry, did, and with authority. A cycle between Domi, Petry, and Tatar had the Wild scrambling all over their zone, and a heavy shot from Petry created a perfect rebound for Tatar to rip into the gaping net.
Only 16 seconds later the Canadiens took the lead. Phillip Danault fanned on his initial shot, and Dumba blocked it on the way to the net, but the forward followed the bouncing puck, then fired a shot from behind the goal line that bounced off of a sprawling Dubnyk and into the net.
It was Kinkaid who stole the show in the second period with a potential save of the year candidate to keep Montreal’s newfound lead intact. A perfect cross-ice feed to Jason Zucker caught the Canadiens’ defence flatfooted, allowing the Wild forward to uncork a perfect one-timer that almost always results in a goal. Kinkaid however, went full old-school, pulling out a brilliant around-the-world rotation, first slowing down the puck with his glove, then trapping it to finish the play. Zucker couldn’t help but laugh, and Carey Price was struck with admiration on the Canadiens’ bench as well.
Poor defensive clearing efforts sank what was a very good second period, however. One failed attempt to advance the puck led to Ben Chiarot taking a penalty. After killing off the minor, the penalty-killers were trapped on the ice, unable to relieve the pressure with a clearing attempt. Eventually, a bounce off an Eric Staal shot landed right on Marcus Foligno’s stick and then into the back of the Canadiens’ net with seconds on the clock. It was a disappointing end to what started as a promising period for Montreal, but there were still 20 minutes left to claim a victory and make it a clean sweep over the Wild.
A moment of concern for Cale Fleury highlighted the opening minute as former Canadiens player Gabriel Dumont shoved him from behind, face-first into the end boards with no penalty called. The Canadiens’ top line went right down the ice and got their revenge in the best way possible: on the scoreboard.
Gallagher collected a puck in the neutral zone and flew into the Wild end where he double-clutched to get the defence out of position. He then flung a shot toward the net, and a timely drive to the crease by Danault had the puck hit him and float by Dubnyk to restore the Montreal lead.
A poorly timed holding call on Paul Byron put the lead in jeopardy, and just seven seconds into the man advantage, Brad Hunt clanged a shot off the post and in to tie the game at three goals apiece.
The penalty parade continued, with Dumba being sent off for cross-checking just 10 seconds after the tying goal, and handing Montreal a golden chance to take the lead again. While the Canadiens’ power play gave them the momentum early in the game, they were unable to find that same magic once again as the Wild killed off the minor penalty.
Not long after the penalty expired, the Wild broke into the Montreal zone, and a perfectly threaded pass from Zucker to Zach Parise put Minnesota on top with seven minutes to play.
The Canadiens tried to find another tying goal, but it was not to be. They were unable to make a real push with Kinkaid on the bench, and a weak Shea Weber wrister from the neutral zone ended the game, a tough 4-3 loss in the second half of a back-to-back.
The team has plenty of time off following their hectic week. They won’t play again until Thursday when they welcome the San Jose Sharks to the Bell Centre.