MONTREAL — It was a thrilling game, with seven goals scored, breakaways at both ends, 73 shots exchanged, highlight-reel saves and some real drama before the Eastern Conference-leading Florida Panthers stepped off the Bell Centre ice with a 4-3 win over the Montreal Canadiens.
This party started with a goal from Nick Suzuki 29 seconds in and, if you blinked, you might have missed Aleksander Barkov’s game-tying goal on the very next shift.
The Panthers took control early in the second period before Montreal’s Jake Evans tied it 2-2 five minutes later. And even after Anthony Duclair and Sam Reinhart gave Florida the edge it needed, Paul Byron got the Canadiens within a goal with 3:40 remaining — just before they got a look at a 6-on-4 opportunity throughout the second-to-last minute of play and came close to sending it to overtime.
The fans got a real show, a glimpse of the Canadiens' newfound competitiveness, a chance to see Suzuki and Cole Caufield do their thing and watch Alex Romanov play just under 23 minutes of impressive hockey, and they stayed to the end and saluted the home team for its effort.
You have to wonder if any of them noticed when Jeff Petry came back to the bench and hobbled down the tunnel early in the third period. At the time he left the game, Corey Schueneman was the only Montreal blueliner who played less than his 13:16.
Which isn’t to say Petry wasn’t good in this one. He was quite effective for the most part, actually, with his best play coming right before he left — a breakaway pass that sent Josh Anderson in alone on Spencer Knight. It’s just that he wasn’t much of a story, despite how much of one he was in the leadup to Monday’s trade deadline.
But the 34-year-old defenceman is going to be a big story from here to the summer, when it’s likely his unfulfilled trade request finally gets fulfilled.
Petry wasn’t under any illusions about the chances of getting dealt before 3 p.m. ET. Monday. Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes had kept him up to date throughout the process and he had made him aware the circumstances weren’t particularly favourable.
"Term (deals) — contracts starting with a larger number — are a little bit harder to do at the trade deadline because the teams who are looking to trade don’t typically have that kind of cap space," Hughes told the media after the deadline passed. "So, I told him, 'If it happens, it happens. We value you as an organization. We’re not looking to trade you, but we understand the circumstances. So, if we can do it, we’ll do it. But I don’t want you to have any false expectations going in.'"
There were conversations held with teams, though, and an earnest attempt to move Petry was made.
But Hughes stayed true to his pledge not to trade him unless it made sense for the Canadiens, and nothing materialized that made sense for the Canadiens.
Weeks before those conversations were put off until summer, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported something might be cooking with the Philadelphia Flyers, and what sources told us about that scenario outlined what made trading Petry before the deadline so complex.
With the player having struggled as mightily as he did out of the gate — appearing nothing like the one who authored the three best seasons of his career just prior — this was going to have to involve the Canadiens retaining some of his $6.25 million salary in each of his three remaining years under contract and taking back the contract of James van Riemsdyk, who had one year remaining after this one at $7 million. The Flyers would’ve included a good prospect in the deal to make it enticing.
This discussion had apparently happened prior to the Flyers deciding to ink right-shooting defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen to a five-year, $25.5-million deal and, for what it’s worth, people we spoke to with both teams denied it ever took place.
Either way, it wasn’t a deal that was going to work for Montreal. And if it had, it might not have been given Petry’s signoff, with Philadelphia being on his 15-team no-trade list.
Most of the scenarios floated, like this one with Philadelphia, made it impossible to move Petry ahead of the deadline.
We had heard the Detroit Red Wings, reaching a new level of competitiveness in their rebuild, might be interested in the Michigan native. But without even being in the playoff race, there was no incentive for them to rush to obtain him, so that avenue was closed.
Still, the Wings could be an option come summer. As could the Dallas Stars.
The chances they re-sign big right-hander John Klingberg after this season are negligible. They’ve got a sizeable negotiation coming with Jason Robertson, who has 31 goals and 60 points in 55 games. They’re going to owe Roope Hintz a big payday in a year. And Klingberg wants an eight-year deal that they don’t appear inclined to hand him.
Had the Stars fallen out of playoff contention leading up to the deadline, they might have dealt Klingberg, and that could’ve paved the way for a Petry deal that still likely would’ve forced Montreal to eat a little bit of Petry’s contract. But they didn’t, and any consideration for something like that was put off until summer.
So Petry remained in Montreal, still separate from his pregnant wife and three sons, who left for the family home in Michigan in late December after Quebec’s most severe COVID-19 protocols were reinstated.
He’s taken it all in stride and tried his best to remain upbeat. Regarding his attitude, defensive partner Joel Edmundson said after Thursday’s game, "It’s been great."
"I think I mentioned this a couple of days ago where every day at the rink he’s happy to be there and he’s happy to be around the boys," Edmundson continued. "Obviously, there were rumours and whatnot around the trade deadline, but he didn’t bring that to the rink at all. I don’t think that he let that faze him. I feel like you can’t. It’ll affect your game, and he’s been playing good hockey lately. No, he’s been awesome."
It’s been anything but easy, though.
Petry had a brutal start to the season, largely affected by the short break between the run to the Stanley Cup Final and the beginning of training camp, and it seemed that while everyone on the Canadiens tumbled, he fell harder. The damage was considerable and painful.
But Petry picked up his game a lot once Martin St. Louis took over as interim head coach in February, even if that wasn’t enough to change the complicated trade dynamics that inevitably kept him in Montreal post-deadline.
The hope now for the Canadiens is that Petry can continue to build up his game — and his market value — over the final 18 games of the season. He was on his way to doing that when he got injured during Thursday’s loss to the Panthers.
You might have missed it amid all the chaos of the game, but that little incident could affect this dossier. We’ll only know more this weekend — Friday at the earliest — regarding Petry’s status.