The Montreal Canadiens faced the difficult task of needing to win the final four games of the regular season — all against seeded playoff teams — just to give themselves a chance at making the post-season. The first of those opponents was a Winnipeg Jets squad perched atop the Central Division.
Other than a brief flurry of activity from the Jets, the Canadiens were largely in control of the opening period. As they had done in the previous game versus the Columbus Blue Jackets, they kept the home team’s shot count static for over 10 minutes of play in the opening frame as they piled up shots and chances on offence.
And as in Thursday’s game, while they came close, the offensive output didn’t match the commanding even-strength performance. A loud ping from a shot off the post by Artturi Lehkonen was the closest they came to turning that possession into a goal.
It did eventually lead to a power play. The man advantage has generally brought any momentum Montreal carried to a halt over the course of the season, but on this occasion it helped push the Canadiens over the edge to get the all-important first goal late in the first.
On a set play, the puck was sent below the goal line after Jordan Weal won the offensive-zone faceoff, where Phillip Danault hit Joel Armia in the slot. The former Jets player, who just scored the first power-play goal of his NHL career on March 21, notched his second in six games.
The Jets were much more involved in the middle period as their offensive-zone pressure had Montreal’s defence scrambling to cover. Winnipeg came close to finding a tying goal, but they hit the posts behind Carey Price on two occassions.
The distinct noise of frozen rubber on iron reverberated around the arena from the opposite end in the final minute; the only sound to be heard as Jeff Petry silenced the crowd with the precisely placed shot that made it a 2-0 game. It was the 13th of the season for the defenceman, setting a new mark after doing the same with 12 goals last year.
Montreal received a great chance to put the Jets away with a power play partway through the third, but two man-advantage goals was a lofty ask for the team. At the very least they were able to kill another two minutes off the clock and leave just half a period to play out.
At 11:24 the Habs were probably wishing they could have replicated that first-period play at five-on-four when the coverage broke down around Price and Mathieu Perreault was left alone to knock in a loose puck on just the Jets’ 17th shot of the game.
The goal inspired a great finish from the home team as they chipped away at the shot advantage Montreal had built up, but the Canadiens hung on until Weal was able ice it with an empty-net goal in the final seconds.
Earlier in the day the Carolina Hurricanes had played the Philadelphia Flyers. After essentially being eliminated by Montreal two weeks earlier, the Flyers can be forgiven for not putting up much of a fight to aid the Canadiens’ playoffs push. They did manage to get out to a 1-0 lead, but the end result was a 5-2 victory for the Hurricanes that officially dropped Philadelphia’s playoff chances to zero. The win has Carolina still one point ahead of Montreal in the Eastern Conference standings.
Game-winning goal: Justin Faulk made it 3-1 with a power-play bomb.
Starting an hour later than the Canadiens did in the Central Time Zone, the Blue Jackets were looking to run their winning streak to four games versus a Nashville Predators club with designs on snatching the division lead from the Jets. It wasn’t a good night for either of those Western Conference teams as they were both handed losses. The Blue Jackets came away with a 5-2 victory, and have now scored 20 goals during their winning run, which is bad news for a Canadiens team needing them to falter.
Game-winning goal: Sergei Bobrovsky made a point-blank save before Oliver Bjorkstrand scored in the final seconds of the first period.
The result of the three Saturday contests was no movement among the three teams, all adding two points to their season totals. The games remaining counter ticked down by one, and that’s the number that is of greatest concern to the Canadiens right now. There are only three games left for them to make their move before the horn sounds on the season. They need three more efforts like they put forth last night, and also need one of the Metro teams they’re chasing to stumble somewhere along the way.
Next up on Montreal’s list is the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have had home-ice advantage locked up for some time. The Lightning fell to the Washington Capitals — the Canadiens’ opponent on Thursday — by a 6-3 score.