If the Montreal Canadiens’ playoff chances were small before, they are microscopic after the third-period debacle against the New York Rangers on Thursday night. Staying on home ice for the weekend game against the Carolina Hurricanes, the players and management had two days to lick their wounds, regroup, and get somewhat energized for another Hockey Night in Canada.
Carey Price finally got the night off after starting the previous 11 games for the Habs. This meant that Charlie Lindgren got another opportunity to show himself worthy of being the solution as Price’s backup. On defence, Xavier Ouellet was healthy and back on the third pairing, replacing Karl Alzner.
Their opponent traveled to Canada after being dealt three losses in its previous four games, the only win coming in the already iconic David Ayres game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. This has seen them them slip in the wild-card chase of the Eastern Conference, which was certainly not what the Hurricanes hoped for Monday when they swung heavily and brought in three new players before the trade deadline.
In the first night of a back-to-back, they lost a tight game to the Colorado Avalanche, a game which saw Anton Forsberg get his first NHL minutes this season. He became the fifth goaltender the Hurricanes had used in a seven-day span. With no Ayres available on the roster, Forsberg seemed to have done enough to earn Rod Brind’Amour’s trust by stopping 29 of 32 shots, getting the nod Saturday as well.
The Habs started the game off with a bang, firing a flurry of shots against the ‘Canes’ net during the first five minutes. The peppering of the Swedish goaltender earned a result in the shape of an early lead. Phillip Danault broke his long scoring drought with a swift redirect in the crease, after his trusted buddy Tomas Tatar found him with superb vision.
Carolina got a chance to regroup when Brett Kulak got called for high-sticking and went to the box for two minutes. The shot statistics evened out during his sentence, but the Habs remained in front. The home team would get a power play chance of their own when their opposition got caught with too many men on the ice. The end result was the same, and Danault remained the only scorer through the first 20 minutes.
Jake Evans was not happy with his game after Thursday night’s loss, and sought for a better outing on Saturday. In the beginning of the second period, he outraced Jaccob Slavin and got the chance for a tap-in from the crease, but the shot went slightly above the net.
Max Domi and Paul Byron have formed a great pairing since the latter returned from his long-term injury. Shortly after Evans’s chance, the two connected again to give Montreal that dreaded two-goal lead. During a scrum in front of the net, Byron dug out the puck to the surging Domi, who buried it with a wrister.
Were the Canadiens going to shiver and shake and invite the Hurricanes back into the game, now being up by mutliple goals? Not yet! Seventeen seconds later, Brendan Gallagher fired a slapshot that drilled itself in near the far post. Linemates Tatar and Danault got credited with an assist each, putting the former past 60 points on the year. It was 3-0 Canadiens, and that was all she wrote for Forsberg. Alex Nedeljkovic replaced him in net for the remainder of the night.
It took four minutes, then the lead was back down to two. Jordan Staal won a draw on the left side of the Habs’ zone, with the puck going back to Haydn Fleury at the point. The older of the Brothers Fleury took a few strides into the middle of the ice and fired through traffic to beat Lindgren over the glove.
The period ended with a Montreal power play. Justin Williams slashed a dangling Domi and had to serve some time for his crime. Both sides had significant opportunities to tighten or widen the lead during the two minutes. First, newly acquired Vincent Trocheck came all alone from mid-ice when the Hurricanes broke on a misplaced pass from Tatar. The centerman had enough time to rapidly get three shots away, but Lindgren made sure to deny Trocheck’s every effort of an opening goal with his new franchise.
Half a minute later, Shea Weber fired one of his trusted missiles from the blue line which struck the crossbar behind Nedeljkovic. Charles Hudon had the last shot before the power play — and the period — ended. Montreal continued to struggle on the man advantage and was now 0-for-3 on the night.
Well, here we go again. Early in the third, the Hurricanes scored to make the game even closer. Joel Edmundson shot from far out right near the blue line. Lindgren had trouble locating the puck due to a perfectly performed screen and it went in over his glove, silencing the home crowd and energizing Carolina. All in all, a similar goal to the first one conceded.
Sebastian Aho came close to tying it up with a wrister while the teams were playing four-on-four. Lindgren made a great reflex save that time, getting enough of his right pad out to make the stop with his toe.
Minutes later, Andrei Svechnikov tried to beat the Montreal goalie. Getting a bit too eager inside the crease, he ran through Lindgren and got called for goaltender interference. Carolina thought it was a dubious call, but the home crowd certainly did not protest, feeling the possible win edge a few minutes closer.
The Hurricanes gained another power play of their own when Danault tripped up Edmundson behind the Carolina net. Once again, Lindgren was in the way and saved the Canadiens. During the final 20 minutes, he got to prove time after time that he is still a viable option in the NHL. With that in mind, it is a shame that he wouldn’t be able to carve out a well-deserved regulation win.
With two minutes to go, the trailing ‘Canes sent Nedeljkovic to the bench to get an extra attacker out. Unfortunately for the home team, it worked. Edmundson had another try from the point and Williams steered it in through the heavy traffic in front of net.
The Canadiens players looked dazed, like they couldn’t believe what had just happened again. In the last second before overtime, Svechnikov could have completed a Thursday night déjà vu. From the slot, the shot thankfully went straight into Lindgren’s glove to get the game to extra time.
In overtime, the Canadiens got their groove back. Mr. Reliable, Jeff Petry, circled around in the neutral zone waiting for the potential breakaway, and Tatar saw him. The pass was on the blade and Petry cruised in to beat Nedeljkovic with a wrister up high.
It all ended well eventually, but you can imagine this team is going to have nightmares whenever they enter the third period with a lead throughout the remainder of the season.
The Canadiens will now go on a three-game road trip, starting off Tuesday night in Brooklyn at the Barclays Center against Jean-Gabriel Pageau the defensive-minded New York Islanders.