MONTREAL — It wasn’t so much that Jeff Petry had a career-high four points, assisting on all four goals the Montreal Canadiens scored in a matinee win over the Florida Panthers, as much as it was that he did it under the type of chaotic and highly distracting circumstances we almost never hear about.
The drama started in the lead up to Montreal’s 3-1 win in Buffalo over the Sabres on Thursday. Petry was taking his pre-game nap when his phone started vibrating on his hotel nightstand. It was his wife calling and she was in a panic.
“Usually Julie never calls me, so I heard my phone vibrate and saw that she was calling,” Petry said after Saturday’s game. “So chances are it wasn’t something good.”
Julie Petry was driving on the inbound highway to Montreal from the south shore, en route to meet her four-year-old son Boyd at the Montreal Children’s Hospital because he had suffered an allergic reaction. Boyd, who was at daycare, was given an EpiPen to control the reaction and then he was placed in an ambulance.
Can you imagine how helpless Jeff felt as he made his way to KeyBank Arena?
It wasn’t until an hour or so later, after the Canadiens held their standard pre-game meeting, that he received an update from Julie that Boyd was being looked after and being held under observation before being released.
A short while later Jeff received a message from Julie that she and Boyd were on their way home and all was well again. He went on to play 24:04 in the win against the Sabres.
When he came off the ice, a message from Julie was waiting for him.
“She says ‘Call me, ASAP,” Jeff recalled.
He assumed Boyd might have had a flare up, but as Julie explained, when she and the couple’s eldest arrived back at their home, their middle child — two-year-old Barrett — was so excited to see them that he tripped down the stairs and broke his arm.
They packed back into the car and drove straight back to the emergency room.
“That was wild,” Petry said.
But with Boyd feeling better, and with Barrett now accustomed to life in a cast, he came to the Bell Centre on Saturday prepared to play the team’s biggest game of the season—against a Florida team that was eight points up in the standings and sitting in third place in the Atlantic Division.
Not only did Petry notch four assists and earn the game’s first star, he helped the Canadiens control 85 per cent of the shot attempts in his 15:45 at even strength. He also helped them kill five third-period penalties and took the shot that was tipped by Brendan Gallagher for their only power-play goal of the game.
If Petry had played so well with all the distractions he had to deal with over the last 48 hours, he believes it’s in part because he’s had to perform with distraction hanging over his head for most of the last month.
With the Canadiens dipping in the standings, Petry’s name has been circulating in the rumour mill. Even if he knows it’s because several teams will be interested in his services as a strong, right-handed defenceman who averages over 23 minutes per game, who’s on pace to beat his career high 46 points in 82 games last season and still has one year left on his contract at a digestible $5.5-million cap hit—and not because Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin is actively shopping him—it doesn’t make it any easier to play.
As he put it, “I think there’s obviously some things that you hear throughout the media with stories coming out about different players, but you can have a horrible game and not many people know what’s really going on if there is something going on. So, it obviously does play a role in things. Something happens at home and then you go out and play. You’re the only one that really knows about it.”
What we know is that Petry has a 15-team no-trade list that was submitted to the Canadiens long ago and that he hasn’t been approached by Bergevin to waive it.
For what it’s worth, the six-foot-three Michigan native doesn’t want to go anywhere.
“From the day I got here, it’s been a special place for me here,” Petry said. “Getting to play in the playoffs for the first time here was incredible and I honestly believe I don’t think there’s a better place to win than it would be here. I think, like I said, we have our work cut out for us this year. But I still believe this group can do it.”
If Carey Price continues to play like he did on Saturday, it will improve Montreal’s odds.
Price came up with 29 saves, including 17 in the third period, and passed Ken Dryden for third place on the Canadiens’ all-time shutout list.
The Canadiens also got goals from Nick Suzuki, Artturi Lehkonen and Tomas Tatar and Price qualified their performance as “a good team effort.”
But without Petry’s standout game, it would have been a different story.
“He’s part of that—when we talk about a core group—every team has a core group (and) he’s part of that group,” said Canadiens coach Claude Julien. “That says a lot about him. Not just us as coaches, but even his teammates see him as a leader, and we make him part of that core group that sometimes coaches lean on and try and get a feel for certain things. So he’s part of that. He’s also got a letter on his jersey when there’s some injuries, so that kind of stuff. So we consider [him] definitely as a leader, as well.”
You have to think the odds are that Petry will continue to be one with the Canadiens for the foreseeable future.
The team might fall further back in the race, but Petry’s not a player they can easily replace and they know it.
“Obviously I’m not the GM, but I would never trade Jeff Petry,” said teammate Max Domi. “He’s so valuable, he’s one of the best skaters in the NHL on the back end. You look how smooth he is out there, and the stuff he can do with the puck too—he’s feeling it. He’s a tough man to stop, so he’s a big part of our hockey team.”