MONTREAL — Joel Armia needed three games to find his scoring touch after missing 19 with an upper respiratory infection.
“Yeah, there were a lot of good things actually on the ice,” Armia said. “I think we played a really good game through every period. Yeah, I’m just really happy to be back.’
Although it took Armia two games to score, Montreal goalkeeper Sam Montembeault said that it was apparent in Armia’s first morning skate back with the team on April 1 that the forward still knew how to shoot.
“I have a big bruise here because of him,” Montembeault said, pointing to his right thigh. “He’s obviously got a great shot if you give him the time. He’s really heavy on it, so he’s a great shooter.”
Nick Suzuki, Brendan Gallagher and Mike Hoffman also scored for Montreal (31-42-6). Mike Matheson collected two assists and Montembeault made 24 saves.
Dylan Strome and Nicklas Backstom scored for the Capitals (34-35-9). Darcy Kuemper made 25 saves as Washington lost its third straight.
Freshly eliminated from playoff contention for the first time in eight seasons, the Capitals played short one man. Forward Anthony Mantha was ruled out with a lower-body injury and wasn’t replaced in the lineup.
When asked if his team’s deflated second period was due to Washington’s first game after being eliminated, Strome said his team’s new reality wasn’t a factor.
“When you’re on the ice, I don’t think you’re thinking about if you’re in the playoffs or not,” said Strome. “The hockey sense takes over and I think it was just some not great reads, not great balances and all of a sudden they get two short-handed goals and they had some nice shots.”
Head coach Peter Laviolette simply described his team’s performance as “an off-game.”
“The first five minutes of the first period were O.K. and then after that I thought that we were too loose again,” Laviolette said. “Not good enough defensively and then in the second period, we fell apart.”
Strome grabbed a loose puck that found its way behind Habs defenceman Joel Edmundson, zoomed along the boards and scored his 20th goal of the season for Washington 5:30 into the game.
The Canadiens responded with four second-period goals. Suzuki reached the end of Edmunsson’s clearance on the penalty kill to create a breakaway and tied the game at 3:42.
Habs coach Martin St. Louis credited Suzuki for sparking the team to a comeback. The captain scored one of Montreal’s two short-handed goals on the night.
“You have a good first period but you don’t know where it’s going to lead you,” St. Louis said. “You’re on the penalty kill and (Suzuki) is able to give us a goal like that. I think it lifted the team.”
Montreal took the lead with a second short-handed goal at 7:52 when Armia whipped in a wrister from the left face-off circle.
Drouin then found Gallagher in the slot with a backhand pass behind the net to get the Habs up 3-1.
Armia scored his second of the night, sending a slap shot past Kuemper, to give Montreal a 4-1 lead by the second intermission.
Washington cut its deficit to two goals on the power play at 14:27 of the final frame. Strome found Backstrom in the slot to score his seventh of the season.
Armia completed his hat trick in an empty net then, with 17 seconds remaining, Hoffman added a sixth Montreal goal from the left face-off circle.
The Canadiens held their seventh annual Pride night and wore pre-game jerseys, set to be auctioned off in support of Montreal’s LGBTQ+ community. Forward Denis Gurianov did not participate. The Canadiens said in a statement that Gurianov cited family reasons.
“We don’t know what the repercussions are (in Russia),” said Habs coach Martin St. Louis before the game. “I’m not judging (Gurianov) because I’ve never walked in his shoes so I respect his decision.”
“I think we can support the organization and the league’s decision to hold these nights, to promote inclusivity and respect,” added Brendan Gallagher. “We can also respect our teammate’s decision, where back in Russia they have propaganda laws, to protect his family.”
The Canadiens visit the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.
The Panthers host the Florida Panthers on Saturday.