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Canadiens vs. Canucks game recap: Hard times are over

It’s been very hard, but it’s getting easier now. Montreal will not end this season without an overtime win.

NHL: Vancouver Canucks at Montreal Canadiens Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Dominique Ducharme made three changes, two of his choosing and another one that he was forced to, from Friday night’s overtime loss. Leading Canuck slayer Tyler Toffoli picked up a lower-body injury late in that game, which sidelined him for Saturday. He was replaced in the lineup by Artturi Lehkonen, making the third line once more completely Finnish. Meanwhile, Carey Price moved into net to replace Jake Allen, while Victor Mete replaced Xavier Ouellet on the blue line.

With that overtime loss still lingering and Toffoli being out, the omens went from bad to worse when you could see the Canadiens dress in their dreaded Reverse Retro jerseys. However, the game started better than expected. The Finnish line drove to the net and was awarded with an interference call on Joel Armia’s old nemesis, Tyler Myers.

Since Alex Burrows took over the power-play duty from his predecessor Kirk Muller, man advantages are actually exciting to watch again. This one was no exception. It started off with a hard slapper from Shea Weber close to the slot, which Braden Holtby caught in his glove. It continued with Nick Suzuki demonstrating why last night’s pinpoint equalizer was by no means a one time thing. In an eerily similar manner, he took a few strides forward from his position out right before he struck with laser-sharp precision past Holtby, whose sight was efficiently blocked by Phillip Danault. Montreal got the early lead, and it is relieving for the remainder of this season to see Suzuki score on a regular basis again.

Vancouver seemed to still be on Pacific Time during the first period, creating next to no offence at all. If only Montreal had slightly more efficient timing and offensive awareness, the lead could have been more than just one goal going into the first break.

As it turned out, the Canadiens really could have used a bigger lead because it took only 22 seconds of second-period action before the Canucks had tied up the contest. Suzuki lost the puck in a moment of bewilderment behind his own net and J.T. Miller quickly served a surging Jake Virtanen in front of Price. This was Virtanen’s fourth goal of the season and, incidentally, it was to this point Vancouver’s fourth shot of the entire game.

Vancouver would subsequently take the lead as well. With Brett Kulak in the penalty box for a hold, Brock Boeser got enough time to breathe, load, and release from his favoured position to the left of the net. It felt like the Canadiens had a well-functioning penalty kill up until that shot, pressuring the Canucks high and not letting them create high-quality chances.

Regardless, Montreal suddenly found themselves one goal down, and Saturday was starting to feel like a Groundhog Day affair for the home side.

Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait until the last minute of the third period for the 2-2 equalizer on this evening. Speaking of players who need to get going in the scoring column, Tomas Tatar hadn’t found the net for 11 games heading into yesterday. That streak is not relevant anymore.

The goal occurred during a sequence that demonstrated just how positively frustrating Montreal’s offence could be to face when working as expected, as the Habs cemented themselves in Vancouver’s zone. With a delayed penalty call lingering, the Canucks could not get hold of the puck as the Canadiens players swarmed like bees around the white-and-blue net. Finally, Mete worked the puck around the net to Danault, who found Tatar on the right side of the slot. The Slovak picked the near corner, and Holtby was beaten.

There was nothing pointing to this game being tied after two periods. The expected goals-for percentage was at this point close to 70% and the high-danger chances were nearing 80% in favour of the team wearing blue. Therefore, it was by no means unfair that the Habs regained the lead toward the end of the period.

Once again, the Brendan Gallagher-Danault-Tatar line was at the centre of the attention. With their ferocity, Tatar and Gallagher gained possession in the offensive zone. After passing the puck back to the blue line, Weber quickly found an unlikely sharpshooter in Joel Edmundson. Holtby was efficiently screened once again, and the shot itself was perfectly placed above the netminder’s shoulder. This was Edmundson’s second goal in a Canadiens jersey. His first was scored nearly two months ago, on January 24, against the very same Canucks team.

It took Vancouver 22 seconds to tie the contest up in the second period. Well, in the third they repeated that feature. Bo Horvat won a faceoff, which went back to Quinn Hughes, who fired from the point. Horvat was quick to the net and steered it past Price.

Half a minute later, Vancouver scored again on their second shot of the period. Tyler Motte was left all alone in the slot and found the right gap. Should this end up as another one of those impossible losses?

Thankfully, there is Brendan Gallagher. On a clean faceoff win from Danault, he took one step and blazed the puck up over Holtby’s shoulder. A beautifully placed shot and, boy, was that important.

Vancouver seemed satisfied with just playing out the remainder of the game while waiting for Montreal’s inevitable implosion in overtime. The Canucks finished the third period with four shots on goal, of which two went in. There was no way that this game deserved to even be close after 60 minutes, but it was.

Ducharme elected to start Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Jonathan Drouin instead of Paul Byron and Danault. An interesting choice, propelled by Kotkaniemi’s stellar form. An interesting choice was also the way these teams played during the five minutes of overtime. It was cautious hockey, like two wavering boxers knowing they’re both on the brink of losing an important fight.

Things heated up during the very last minute, and both Holtby and Price had to dig deep and demonstrate their talents. If Price hadn’t been quick as a cat on Boeser’s breakaway with nine seconds remaining, it would have been another night ending in despair.

Instead, this odd game continued on into an odd shootout. Corey Perry and Boeser scored on each team’s first penalty shot. This was then followed by eight straight misses from the ensuing shooters, including a couple of exquisite saves by Price.

Since Tatar had been red-hot all night, it was strange that he wasn’t selected for a penalty until the sixth round. Considering how perfect he administered his attempt, I think it’s safe to say he will be further up the pecking order the next time a shootout comes around.

Nils Höglander missed the subsequent shot, meaning that the Montreal Canadiens had done what seemed impossible; they had won in overtime whilst wearing their blue jerseys.