For the first time since March 10, 2020, hockey was played at the Bell Centre on Thursday night as the Montreal Canadiens took on the Calgary Flames for the 2020-21 home opener. The Canadiens, who were coming off their 4-0-2 season-opening road trip, were welcomed home and introduced by frontline workers during the pre-game ceremony, then went on to defeat the Flames in a 4-2 special teams victory.
It was only fitting that the first goal scored on home ice in 324 days went to Brendan Gallagher, who buried a beautiful no-look pass from Corey Perry about halfway through the opening frame. Flames defenceman Juuso Valimaki had taken a penalty for hooking and though Montreal’s passes weren’t connecting in the first minute of the power play, Gallagher made no mistake when the puck found his stick, giving the Canadiens their first special-teams goal of the night.
With a little over five minutes remaining in the first, Elias Lindholm took a seat for hooking Jonathan Drouin, who played a very strong defensive game while also contributing offensively. On the ensuing power play, captain Shea Weber fired a slap shot from his wheelhouse which hit Vilamaki’s stick and found its way behind Calgary netminder David Rittich. Jeff Petry picked up the primary assist on the play while the secondary went to Drouin.
Johnny Gaudreau came close to getting his team on the board with three minutes left in the period, but the ping of the crossbar ensured the Canadiens’ held a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes of play.
Josh Anderson netted the Canadiens’ sole even-strength goal of the night eight minutes into the second period by batting Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s rebound out of the air and behind Rittich, giving him his fourth tally of the season. Drouin picked up his second assist of the night on the goal as his chip to clear the puck from Montreal’s defensive zone is what sprung Kotkaniemi on the two-on-one.
While it is usually Paul Byron who scores the impressive short-handed goals for Montreal, this time he was the one to take an interference penalty in the final minutes of the second period that sent the Flames on their first power play of the night.
Tyler Toffoli, who was coming off five goals in two games against the Vancouver Canucks and who was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week on Monday, went on one of the more comical breakaways you’ll see while on the penalty kill. Nick Suzuki sent a bouncing puck up the ice that Toffoli struggled to control and get to stay on his stick, yet somehow managed to slide it through Rittich’s legs and into the net with 25 seconds remaining in the period to give the Canadiens a 4-0 lead after two. Suzuki’s point streak was extended for a seventh game thanks to the assist.
Frustrations started to rise for the Flames in the third period with Ben Chiarot and Matthew Tkachuk getting matching five minute penalties for fighting, Jake Evans and Rasmus Andersson sitting for matching roughing penalties, and with plenty of post-whistle scrums setting the mood for Saturday’s rematch between the two teams.
Carey Price, who made 23 saves in Montreal’s victory and who was quietly brilliant all night long by making the difficult saves look easy and playing with an immense level of calm, fought hard in the third period to keep his shutout alive. However, with less than two minutes remaining in the game, Milan Lucic deflected Sam Bennet’s wrist shot to get the Flames on the board.
The Canadiens challenged the goal for offside and though it was close, the call on the ice was not overturned. During the ensuing Calgary power play allowed, Andersson netted his second for the Flames, locking in the final score of 4-2.