Canadiens dodge major bullet despite loss to Wild

Devan Dubnyk 32 saves for the shutout and Mikael Granlund scored the winning goal as the Minnesota Wild defeated the Montreal Canadiens.

MONTREAL — It was just under two hours before the puck dropped in the Montreal Canadiens‘ game against the visiting Minnesota Wild that Marc Bergevin explained why he was in such a good mood.

The general manager was asked what satisfied him most about his team’s standing in the playoff race — sitting one point out of the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card position after 42 games despite being labeled a draft-lottery favourite by most prognosticators to start the year. He was asked to explain his satisfaction in relation to the angst and disappointment he felt throughout a 2017-18 season that saw his Canadiens fizzle to a 28th-place finish in the standings.

Bergevin led with how pleasurable it’s been to watch star defenceman Shea Weber back in action after he was sidelined for close to a full calendar year, saying, “I almost forgot what it was like having him on the ice.” And he concluded with the joy he’s taken from watching his team compete as hard as it has thus far in the face of adversity — coming back to erase deficits on several occasions.

And then, six minutes and change into the 1-0 loss the Canadiens suffered to the Wild, in some cruel twist of fate, Mikael Granlund shot a puck that rode up Weber’s stick, sliced his face and left him doubled over in agony on Montreal’s bench.

The big man played seven more shifts in the first period and left for the hospital at intermission. His teammates were left to wonder how serious the injury might be, and they were stuck without him and forward Kenny Agostino, who was tossed from the game for a late hit thrown at Wild forward Eric Fehr.

The Canadiens took 21 shots in the final two periods, tried everything they could to break through Minnesota’s trap, and they ultimately came up short.

But it wasn’t a loss to hang their heads about. Certainly not one like the 4-1 defeat to Nashville this past Saturday, when their effort was sub-standard. And afterwards, Canadiens coach Claude Julien gave a very positive update on Weber’s status.

“The results are positive,” Julien said. “He went and got examined to make sure there was no fracture. [There was none] so he’s making the trip [to Detroit] with us.”

Julien added that he expects Weber will play against the Red Wings on Tuesday, but stopped short of confirming his presence for the game.

In the grand scheme of things, it meant Bergevin could leave the Bell Centre on Monday night with the same smile he walked into the building wearing — even if the Canadiens came out on the wrong end of the scoresheet in the game.

You can imagine that contemplating having to play more games without Weber might have changed his mood at some point in the middle of the night.

Weber had been a force with the Canadiens since returning from off-season knee surgery on Nov. 24. The team went 11-7 with him patrolling their blue line for close to half of every game, and it routinely outshot the opposition and limited the quality scoring chances against. The difference he made was night and day.

Sure, the Canadiens had survived in Weber’s absence on the strength of their surprising 6-2-2 start to the season, but they were hurting for his return in a big way after going 5-6-2 just prior to Nov. 24.

They hung in as best they could against Minnesota without him, but an egregious turnover from Jeff Petry cost them a goal care of Granlund, and they were missing Weber as they pushed to tie the game up over the final 13 minutes of third period.

“It was just a mistake, I should’ve used the boards,” Petry said of the play in question. “I thought I saw where [partner] Mike [Reilly] was and I put it right in the middle and should’ve just sucked the forechecker in a little bit more and used an indirect [pass] instead of trying to make a direct pass.”

It was the kind of mistake he might not have made had he been taking shifts at the same pace he had since Weber returned to the lineup.

Instead, Petry was forced to pick up where he left off in the first two months of the season, playing over 25 minutes for the first time since Nov. 27. It was a challenge he said was that much harder to overcome on this night given that the Canadiens were down to five defencemen.

But Petry led with six shots and 12 attempts in the game, and he threw four hits to make up for Weber’s absence in that department.

“I think we were in it the whole time, we even had better chances than they did,” said Julien. “I thought we had more scoring chances. One mistake ended up being what cost us the game.”

But a scary incident involving their most important skater won’t cost them as much as it could have, and that’s massive consolation as they push forward with their season.

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