Of the four teams the Montreal Canadiens were scheduled to play on a pre-Christmas road trip, the Calgary Flames were the hottest, sporting an 8-2-1 record over their previous 11 games. Both of the regulation losses had come in the two most recent games, so the Habs were arriving in Calgary at a good time to take on what is a fairly well constructed squad.
There wasn’t much room for either team to work in the opening 20 minutes. Checking was tight in the first period, with a lot of play in the neutral zone and few quality chances around the nets.
It was after some of that closely contested play that the game’s first goal was scored. Jeff Petry took the puck away from a Flames forward behind his goal line by marking him closely. Attempting to break the puck up the wall moments later, Petry’s passing motion was thrown off by contact with an opponent, and it didn’t go to the intended teammate, but right onto the stick of Elias Lindholm in the slot instead. All of Phillip Danault, Tomas Tatar, and Brendan Gallagher scrambled into defensive positions, but the Flames remained calm, and Brady Tkachuk was picked out on the opposite post to capitalize on the turnover.
Montreal’s best chances of the period came from the third line. First a two-on-one with Nick Cousins and Nick Suzuki saw the former hold the puck to move right into the slot for a shot, getting denied by goaltender David Rittich. A quick forward pass from Carey Price after a Flames dump-in found Suzuki in the neutral zone on a later shift, and the rookie got into the zone for a shot, but had the puck clank off the base of the post.
As momentum seemed to be shifting with a bit of sustained pressure from Montreal, Danault had the puck get behind him at the attacking blue line, and his effort to immediately sweep it away from a Flames player led to a trip instead, putting the Flames on a late power play. The man advantage had plenty of quick passing, and Calgary doubled its lead by making not one, but two passes right across the slot. Johnny Gaudreau moved the puck from the left side to Tkachuk on the right flank of the zone, forcing the defence to shift its focus. The Habs were then unable to react when Tkachuk sent the puck to Lindholm at the back post, and the Flames had a two-goal edge with just eight seconds remaining in the period.
Montreal had a couple of offensive flurries in the opening minutes of the second, but it was a relatively harmless play that created their first goal of the night. After Shea Weber had pinched down below the goal line to play the puck — as he is wont to do this season — the captain moved it over to Gallagher at the side boards. Gallagher saw Danault in front of the net and sent the puck in his direction, but the shot got through the netminder on its own, bringing Gallagher’s goal total up to 15, weeks ahead of the midpoint of the season.
Four minutes later, the Habs had another. Artturi Lehkonen collected the puck at the Flames’ blue line, entered the zone, and passed off to Joel Armia. Armia showed off the powerful release we’ve been seeing a lot this season, blasting the puck into the net so hard only the referee standing below the goal line saw it actually cross the line.
Flames head coach Geoff Ward challenged the play, as Lehkonen had crossed the blue line backwards with his feet entering the zone before the puck. After review, the linesman determined that the forward had been in control of the puck at the time, making player and puck a single unit as far as the offside rules are concerned, and the goal was allowed to stand.
Since they lost the challenge, the Flames were forced to serve a minor penalty for wasting everyone’s time. Montreal didn’t really do much with that power play, but they also didn’t allow Calgary to regroup. After more solid play once the game returned to five-on-five, with some great displays of talent from Ryan Poehling, they soon drew another man advantage. Despite the best efforts of Suzuki on the right-side boards, making passes and taking shots of his own while acting as the quarterback, a third goal wasn’t in the cards.
With the game tied, the Flames held a slight edge to open the third period. At the five-minute mark, Mikey Reilly and Tobias Rieder got into a jousting match in Montreal’s end, both getting time in the box and sending the game to four-on-four.
The open space nearly allowed Montreal to grab their first lead of the night. Armia went in alone on a breakaway, and got a good low shot away, but was denied by Rittich. Brett Kulak’s follow-up shot was aimed for the far corner, but the trajectory was off, sending the puck around the boards. Max Domi tried to ensure the sequence would continue, but that’s about as deep as his thought process seemed to go. He tried to stickhandle around three defenders, and when he realized that wasn’t going to work he tried to lay the puck across to where he hoped a teammate was stationed, but found the stick of Noah Hanifin instead.
The Flames rushed the other way, with Johnny Gaudreau speeding into the zone, pulling up along the boards, and finding Oliver Kylington racing up with a head of steam. Gaudreau fed his defenceman, and Kylington notched his first goal of the year to put his side back on top.
It could have been the back-breaker for a Habs team that had already been forced to overcome a two-goal deficit, but that wasn’t the case. With eight minutes to play in regulation, Suzuki engaged in a bit of fencing with Derek Ryan at the top of the crease to get his stick on top. It proved to be a key manoeuvre, because moments later a shot-pass came in from Cousins, and Suzuki was able to rotate his blade to the perfect angle to deflect the puck over Rittich’s shoulder but still under the crossbar, tying the game with his seventh goal of the year.
As time wound down on the third period, Montreal seemed content to secure the point, but the Flames were going for the win. Price had to make a few critical saves to keep his team alive, getting in front of everything the home side could muster. With three seconds on the clock and a faceoff in Montreal’s zone, Calgary pulled off a nearly perfect play, getting the high-danger chance they were hoping for. The puck glaced off Shea Weber and headed toward the net, but it found iron rather than mesh, and the game continued on to overtime.
In the extra frame, Montreal held the majority of the possession. The team wasn’t finding many chances to attack the net, and spent most of their time regrouping in the neutral zone. Tatar managed to get two decent chances, though neither was successful.
Montreal lost an offensive-zone draw late in overtime, and that led to a massive advantage for Calgary, with the extra point on the stick of Lindholm. The forward was denied by a great save from Price, and then it was Montreal’s turn to catch the opposition on its heels.
Domi was the one to collect the puck, and he carried it all the way down the ice and over the blue line. Having done a full lap of the rink, he didn’t try any dangles, but decided rather to load up a slapshot, pounding one beyond the reach of Rittich to give Montreal a 4-3 overtime victory.
The Canadiens have now won five of their last six games (it’s nice to be able to dismiss that debacle versus the Detroit Red Wings like that) and have secured at least a split on their four-game Western Canadian road trip. The Habs will look to do better than that when they take on the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday evening; a matchup of elite skill versus strong depth.