Lindgren’s debut adds substance to otherwise meaningless game

Max Pacioretty scored a goal and added an assist as the Montreal Canadiens doubled up the Carolina Hurricanes.

It was a meaningless game for the Montreal Canadiens and Carolina Hurricanes, but that was certainly not the case for the Habs’ newest goaltender, Charlie Lindgren.

Lindgren’s 26-save performance in his first NHL game helped the Canadiens beat the Hurricanes 4-2, offering the 22-year-old a memory that will last a lifetime.

“This is the best feeling of my life,” Lindgren said. “I just got my first NHL win. I can’t believe it.”

Two weeks ago, the Lakeville, Minn., native was putting the finishing touches on a record-breaking season with St. Cloud State University of the NCAA. No goaltender at the school had ever hit the 30-win mark, and Lindgren’s .925 save percentage was third-best on the collegiate circuit.

On Thursday, Lindgren became the fifth goaltender to start a game for the Canadiens this season. He also added his name to the very short list of right-catching goalies to play for the team over its 106-year history.

Lindgren’s night started just as you’d expect it to, as his teammates pulled off the time-honoured prank of allowing him to skate the first couple of laps of warmup all by himself.

If the stunt was intended to loosen him up, it failed.

Just 1:34 into the first period, the puck found Hurricanes forward Riley Nash all alone in front. Nash snapped it past Lindgren’s blocker on Carolina’s very first shot of the game.

But as he settled in, Lindgren showed some of the mettle that had 10 to 15 teams — including the Minnesota Wild, the Winnipeg Jets and Florida Panthers — inquiring about his services before he chose Montreal.

Lindgren’s first save of the game was a poke check on Hurricanes leading scorer Jeff Skinner. He smothered long shots from defencemen Noah Hanifin and Justin Faulk before the first period ended and made a sprawling save on forward Chris Terry.

Lindgren didn’t have much of a chance on the 50-foot one-timer from Hanifin that beat him clean 5:11 into the second period. The 6-foot-2 goaltender made himself smaller by trying to see around Canadiens defenceman Alexei Emelin and got caught a little deep in his crease. Chalk it up to inexperience with the pace of NHL play.

But he looked like a cagey veteran turning aside shots in the third period. Lindgren’s athleticism was on full display in the final minutes of the game as the Canadiens held on to a 4-2 lead.

With just under 1:30 to go, Lindgren charged out of his crease to challenge a tipped shot by Hurricanes forward Elias Lindholm. The puck bounced off his blocker, popped over his head and landed on a tee for Carolina’s Victor Rask, forcing Lindgren to stack up his pads in desperation to make his best save of the night.

Seconds later, he was down for the count but stole away with his glove what would’ve been Skinner’s 29th goal of the season.

As the clock ran down, the cameras panned to Lindgren’s father, Bob, who was in the process of being congratulated by a fan wearing opposing goaltender Cam Ward’s jersey.

Bob, a lifelong Canadiens fan, took in the win alongside Charlie’s mother and brother.

“I’ve learned a lot from [Bob],” Lindgren said on Wednesday. “Through the ups and downs, he’s always been there for me.”

Canadiens coach Michel Therrien was proud of Lindgren, too.

“What a nice moment we witnessed tonight,” said Therrien in French. “A young goaltender made his NHL debut. I felt the guys did excellent work in front of him, too. It’s a nice team win.”

It was a special night for Canadiens defenceman Darren Dietz, too.

Dietz, who played a career-high 17:16 in his 12th NHL game, scored the first goal of his career with 10 seconds remaining in the first period.

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