Playing their first game in 10 days, the Montreal Canadiens put forth a strong effort, but wound up on the losing end of a 3-2 overtime loss at the hands of the New Jersey Devils.
The Canadiens (28-18-6) had made a couple of lineup changes prior to the game, inserting forward Paul Byron back into the fold after he served his three-game suspension, and scratching Michael Chaput and Kenny Agostino in place of Charles Hudon and Matthew Peca. Goaltender Carey Price, the January recipient of the Molson Cup, also sat out the contest, serving his one-game suspension for missing the All-Star Game last weekend. Backup Antti Niemi took his spot between the posts, making 24 saves in the loss.
Montreal did jump out of the gate, and were the first to get on the scoreboard when 2018 first-rounder Jesperi Kotkaniemi, playing on a line with his countrymen Joel Armia and Artturi Lehkonen, sniped his seventh past New Jersey tender Mackenzie Blackwood just over five minutes into Saturday’s contest at the Bell Centre.
The Canadiens found themselves on the wrong end of poor discipline, when blue-liners Jordie Benn and Shea Weber both were assessed minors 20 seconds apart late in the first period. The Devils made them pay for it, when defenceman Will Butcher wired a slapshot from the point past Niemi, tying the game up at one apiece.
The home squad seemed to have taken the lead early in the second, when Armia poked a loose puck past Blackwood, but the officials deemed a whistle had been blown prior.
The game stayed a stalemate until late in the frame. While working to try and improve their league-worst power play, forward Phillip Danault tipped a Jeff Petry point shot right past Blackwood seconds after one expired. It was Danault’s ninth on the campaign, eclipsing his season total from last year, and four away from his career-high of 13, also with the Habs.
Blackwood stood his ground after the goal and prevented the lead from getting any larger, as New Jersey was heavily outshot 18-4 in the period, and 26-13 through 40.
The Devils weren’t going to throw in the towel, and instead tried throwing more pucks at Niemi, but it stayed a 2-1 game until the middle of the frame. After Devils forward Blake Coleman’s roughing minor came to end with few looks from the Canadiens, the visitors skated down the ice, rookie Kevin Rooney spotted an open Nico Hischier, and he made no mistake burying the puck just under the crossbar for his 15th of the season. Rooney’s assist was the first of his career, and just his second career NHL point.
By the end of regulation, the game was drawn at two, with Montreal heavily outshooting New Jersey 38-24.
The Canadiens were mere inches away from closing out the game within the first shift of overtime when forward Max Domi rang a shot just off the crossbar 18 seconds in.
And before you knew it, just a short while later, the game was over when Hischier broke in alone with a burst of speed, firing his second of the afternoon just under Niemi’s blocker for the game-winner at the 1:56 mark of the extra frame.
The Canadiens will look to rebound on this afternoon’s loss when they face off against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers (23-24-4) on Super Bowl Sunday afternoon. The Oilers also lost in overtime Saturday, 5-4 at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers.