If the Montreal Canadiens win but there are no fans there to see it, did it really happen?
Inside a cavernous Bell Centre for the first time since last season’s playoffs, the Habs outplayed the Philadelphia Flyers for large portions of the game.
But in a season that has been rocky at best, of course it wouldn’t come easy for the Montreal Canadiens. Cayden Primeau made 37 saves and stopped all three shooters in the shootout to give the home team a rare 3-2 victory.
Gotta be clinical
It was there for the taking for the Montreal Canadiens early. The home team should at least have had a multi-goal lead after twenty minutes.
But the Habs weren’t clinical with their finishing. Mike Hoffman rang one off the post on a power play that looked dangerous for the first time in a millenia.
Artturi Lehkonen made a great play to Joel Armia, who was spared being scratched thanks to a Mathieu Perreault lower-body injury. Armia’s deft tip off Lehkonen’s pass nearly fooled Carter Hart, who played his part in keeping the score close for Philly. The Habs recycled the puck back to the blueline and Brett Kulak’s shot was tipped home by Lehkonen to make it 1-0 for the good guys.
Ben Chiarot was next to almost score when he grazed the crossbar from the slot. Lehkonen nearly had a second after a jam play in front set up by Poehling. Through it all, their linemate Cole Caufield was buzzing around the offensive zone, looking dangerous with every brief touch of the puck.
The Habs fired 19 shots at Hart in the first but only had the one goal to show for their work after 20 minutes.
No goals for Cole
Caufield and the rest of the team hit the ice with the same energy they started the game. While the visitors continued to look rather sluggish.
Unfortunately, a broken play and a bouncing puck popped out on to the stick of Max Willman in the slot and he beat Primeau high glove to tie things up 1-1.
The rest of the second period was the Caufield show. The Habs diminutive winger looked mighty close to finally scoring his second of the season. He was speedy. Decisive. Confident every time he went up the ice. But Hart had an answer for everything the Wisconsin native threw at him.
A one-timer from the left circle? Hart threw out the glove. A pump fake and a snap shot in the slot? Hart got a piece of it. Caufield and his teammates were cooking with gas but the result didn’t match the effort.
What happened? Well, of course the Flyers scored with a minute left before the second intermission. A cheeky little tip by Patrick Brown in the neutral zone off a stretch pass by Travis Sanheim sprung Jackson Cates on a 2-on-1. Cates held off the backchecking Habs and squeezed one through the wickets on Primeau for his first ever NHL goal.
For all their great work, the Habs would be playing from behind the final period.
The Rocket arrive in Montreal
Mike Yeo either chewed out his squad or the Flyers realized they were in a hockey game in the third period.
Philadelphia were certainly the better team as they tried to close out a game they had no business winning. But Primeau said to Hart anything you can do, I can do better. Or at least the same.
Philadelphia started to hem the Habs into their own zone and Primeau was called into action to deny James Van Riemsdyk with the blocker. A broken play in the home team’s zone saw the puck fall to an open Willman for his second of the game. But the Habs goaltender stretched his left pad as far as he possibly could to make a toe save and keep the game in reach for the Habs.
The Montreal Canadiens found their footing again after those big saves. Jonathan Drouin and Jesse Ylonen had prime goal-scoring chances turned away by Hart. Jake Evans looked like he was set to fire home the equalizer in the slot. But Justin Braun’s stick deflected the puck away and had the Habs forward gazing skyward.
Well, his prayers were answered with just under six minutes in regulation. Laurent Dauphin, who has really opened some eyes (maybe even Jeff Gorton’s) since he’s been called up, got his just desserts. The Habs centreman outworked the Flyers in front of the net and backhanded home a rebound off a Ben Chiarot point shot to tie things up at 2-2. It was Dauphin’s first as a Hab, his first NHL goal in five years, and he might have just earned a spot in the team for the foreseeable future.
The Montreal Canadiens played the final four minutes of regulation like they were in survival mode, happy just to get to overtime.
Drouin had the best early chance in the extra period. A backhand sauce from Nick Suzuki hit Drouin in the slot but he rang the puck off the crossbar.
Primeau was called into action after Sean Couturier deked his way past Caufield for a prime scoring chance that the Habs goaltender saved. Couturier continued to whack away and Chiarot took exception. His shove into the back of the Flyers centreman was called roughing for some reason and sent the Flyers to a 4-on-3 power play.
Philadelphia looked threatening but couldn’t convert. To be fair to the Habs penalty killers, they were focused and kept the Flyers to the outside. The best chance was Van Riemsdyk’s tip in close that was squeezed by Primeau. But all in all, their coach had to have been happy with their commitment on the PK.
Drouin and Hoffman went walkabout defensively and the Habs were lucky to survive their casual attitude. Poehling nearly set up Suzuki for the winner and Primeau almost gifted the Flyers the win with some poor puck distribution. But both chances went begging and the shootout was required.
A first for everything
It was the first time the Montreal Canadiens went to the skills competition this season. So no one knew just what to expect.
Drouin atoned for his lapses in OT with a snipe glove side to give the Habs the lead. Primeau chucked out the blocker to deny Couturier. Caufield tried to replicate Drouin’s move but missed high and wide. Claude Giroux couldn’t outwait Primeau, who shut the five hole on his attempt. Hoffman tried to snipe low blocker side but Hart was equal to it.
Cam Atkinson tried to extend the shootout with the Flyers final chance. But his attempted forehand jam play was stopped by Primeau. Atkinson’s momentum took him into the Habs net and subsequently into Primeau. The Habs goaltender seemed to hurt his lower back on the play and struggled to get up as the horn blared for a final time.
Typical for the Montreal Canadiens this season. Even in a win to snap a seven-game skid, they couldn’t escape the evening without worrying about the health of one of their players.
BUT HEY!!! THE HABS WON A HOCKEY GAME!!!
With no fans in the building…
The Montreal Canadiens are back in action Saturday night when their hated rivals the Boston Bruins come to town.