MONTREAL— Not even 10 seconds of Saturday’s game had expired before Jordie Benn made the first of several Montreal Canadiens mistakes. Their follies cost two points against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Two valuable points in a playoff race tightening by the day.
It’s not as if the Canadiens weren’t up for this one. Their effort was there from the start. It was just one of those games where nothing went right for them—not from the second Benn coughed up a puck to Jared McCann to start a give-and-go play Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel worked to perfection to the instant McCann put a bow on the 5-1 win with an empty-net goal.
Those are the breaks sometimes, and the Canadiens best forget about them quickly and move on.
“There’s no time to feel sorry for yourselves,” said Brendan Gallagher, whose 29th goal of the season was the only one the Canadiens managed in the game. “We didn’t get the result we wanted, so make sure we change that.”
Their first chance to do so comes Tuesday in Los Angeles, against a Kings team that currently ranks 29th in the 31-team league. Then it’s on to San Jose on Thursday to play a powerhouse Sharks team before closing out the California swing with a game against the 28th-ranked Anaheim Ducks on Friday.
Like Gallagher said, there’s no time to lament what happened against the Penguins. Frankly, the Canadiens are fortunate it didn’t cost them the playoff spot they’ve been clinging to for all but a handful of days this season.
The loss did, however, bump them down to the second wild-card and it vaulted Pittsburgh ahead on a games-played tiebreaker (both teams have 77 points, but Pittsburgh has a game in hand on Montreal). A loss for the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Edmonton Oilers earlier in the day secured their spot among the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference.
It was an odd game at the Bell Centre, one defined by the mistakes the Canadiens made and the bounces that went against them. It started off that way right off the opening draw, with Benn turning over an easy breakout pass to Phillip Danault.
When the puck found its way back to him seconds later, he curled his way towards the boards and put a backhand pass on McCann’s tape.
Crosby took over from there and scored his 29th goal of the season—the 440th of his career to move past Jaromir Jagr for second place on the Penguins all-time goal list—just 21 seconds in.
In the fifth minute, the Pittsburgh captain set up an Evgeni Malkin goal that tipped off of Joel Armia’s stick and beat Carey Price on the short side. And just over four minutes later, Crosby won a draw clean back to Guentzel, who beat Price through the legs on Pittsburgh’s fourth shot.
No matter what the Canadiens tried from that point forward, everything seemingly went against them. They stormed back over the final 11 minutes of the first period, peppering Penguins goalie Matt Murray at every turn while holding his teammates to no more shots on net, but they just couldn’t score.
Canadiens captain Shea Weber, who averages less than two missed shots a game, drilled the post on a first-period power play and missed five more times before the second period expired. Gifted scorers Max Domi and Paul Byron were each stopped on breakaways. Danault hit the post in the third.
In between, some odd bounces led to breakaways for Malkin, Guentzel and Zach Aston-Reese. Price came up with the goods he couldn’t muster in the early portion of the game. It was an odd turn of events.
When you look at the goal Gallagher scored, it came off a broken play, too. It was a pass from Danault that banked off the side of the net and miraculously found Gallagher in the slot. The wobbling puck squeaked through Murray and put the Canadiens on the board.
“It was weird,” said Weber. “It was one of those games. Even some of the bounces we had—it bounced off someone’s shinpad and he saves it or pucks are going to the back post and not in. It was just a weird one. I think energy-wise, on a back-to-back and after a long road trip, I thought we had good legs and did good things, but it was just a weird, weird night.”
It wasn’t a good one for the Canadiens, which was certainly acknowledged by them afterwards.
Also taken into account: The quality of their opponents.
“Obviously they’ve got some high-end talent,” said Gallagher. “They’re going to put the puck in the net. Who scored their goals tonight? Crosby? Malkin? Guentzel? Those are some pretty premiere goal scorers. Puck’s on their stick, you give them that opportunity, it’s tough to keep it out of the net.”
Malkin’s goal gave him his 66th point in his 59th game and Guentzel’s two goals got him to 31 on the season.
And Crosby? He’s now got four goals and six assists in his last four games after his four points in Saturday’s game gave him 1199 in 926 NHL contests. What a show No. 87 put on at the Bell Centre.
The Canadiens? Not so much.
“This is a big win for them and a bad loss for us but you move on,” said Gallagher.
He’s got the right idea.