St. Louis maintaining perspective after Canadiens blow four-goal lead in loss to Canucks

Ilya Mikheyev led an offensive surge with a pair of goals and Elias Pettersson fired home the OT game-winner as the Vancouver Canucks rallied from an early four-goal deficit to defeat the Montreal Canadians 7-6 in a thriller.

VANCOUVER — In an alternate universe, and under completely different circumstances, Martin St. Louis would’ve been seething, and visibly so for the first time in his young coaching career.

To watch his Montreal Canadiens blow a 4-0 lead, and then a late 6-5 one, to turn a galvanizing win into a devastating 7-6 loss to the Vancouver Canucks would’ve had him seeing red if this season was about anything other than development. 

But it’s not. 

Maybe the fans are tired of hearing about how each game provides a lesson for this young team — which came into this one on the Pacific Coast even younger due to Brendan Gallagher and David Savard both being sidelined by injury and came out of it down experienced centreman Sean Monahan, who left halfway through — but the Canadiens are taking a big one with them to Seattle, where they’ll prepare to face the Kraken on Tuesday for the first time this season.

“We need to know that any one play can make the difference,” said St. Louis, who was as cool as he’s been after any other loss the Canadiens have suffered since he took over the bench 62 games ago. 

They’ve stumbled now 36 times under his watch — six now in overtime after Mike Matheson tripped and created the lane Elias Pettersson filled before beating Samuel Montembeault for the winning goal 13 seconds into the extra period — and St. Louis, who was among the feistiest and most competitive players of his era, hasn’t so much as bristled as coach.  

As 4-0 Canadiens became 5-4 Canucks with 11:11 to go in the third period, St. Louis had reason to blow a gasket.

But he called timeout and kept his cool. His intention was not to berate his team, but to get it to realize there was nothing it could do about what had happened and refocus it on the task at hand. 

The Canadiens bounced back with two quick goals from Christian Dvorak and Josh Anderson and were on their way to a 6-5 win when Johnathan Kovacevic was called for tripping J.T. Miller with 1:32 to go in regulation. 

Andrei Kuzemenko tied the game six seconds later and “circumstances,” as St. Louis put it afterward, got in the way in overtime. 

Matheson fell, he and Nick Suzuki failed to close out Pettersson, and one of several costly mistakes in the game proved to be decisive.

But the coach stood in front of the media with a smile on his face after, talking about how the positives outweighed the negatives.

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“It’s a hard league, and I think I love the hockey we’re playing,” St. Louis said. “I think we’re learning to play a style and learning to win, I think, is different than learning to play as a team in the style we want to play.”

There will be days, and months, to clean up the mistakes, and the Canadiens know they made too many of them to walk away with two points instead of one in this game.

But the coach feels there’s more to take away from the way his team filled the net and created offence, from its ability to gain its composure after allowing nine of the first 10 shots in the game and depending too much on Montembeault, and from its response to St. Louis’ message over the 30-second timeout.

And he feels the lesson from the loss will prove valuable in the other part of the equation.  

“Situations like this teaches us a little bit of learning to win, but it’s a process. Because you can’t teach a team how to win and how you want to play at the same time,” St. Louis said. “It’s two different things. So, if I focus on the result tonight, it’s disappointing, obviously, being up 4-0. But if you really watch the game, we could’ve been down 2-0 early and somehow we weren’t. We were up 4-0 and, honestly, halfway through the game, we should’ve been up 6-0. We weren’t able to get the fifth goal, the sixth goal …”

Cole Caufield, who scored his 14th of the season to get the Canadiens on the board, missed one he almost never misses from the goalmouth before the Canucks got second-period goals from Conor Garland and Ilya Mikheyev.

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With momentum on their side, the Canucks got one from Bo Horvat — his 20th of the season — and another from Mikheyev before Jack Studnicka tied things up. 

How much of the damage was self-inflicted?

“I think a good amount,” said Canadiens defenceman Jordan Harris.

But, as he said, St. Louis never lost his composure.

“The coaches aren’t really ones to scream or yell on the bench,” Harris added, “but there’s a certain level and standard they expect, and that’s how it should be.”

St. Louis will address all of it with the Canadiens before they take to the ice on Tuesday, about how they need to be more consistent in every area of the ice.

But the message will continue to be about building.

“Our good was really good tonight, and we’ll just try to focus on that,” St. Louis said.

Practice will be about cleaning up the bad.

The Canadiens have had their fair share of it since the beginning of this road trip through Western Canada, starting with a win earned almost entirely on Jake Allen’s goaltending heroics in Calgary, moving through a penalty-laden loss to the Edmonton Oilers and through this seesaw-battle against a Canucks team that was just as porous defensively and has been much more so since the season began. 

But St. Louis sees no point in screaming and yelling and breaking sticks. 

“You can’t do anything about it,” he said. “What happens in the game is in the past.”

With that, the Canadiens will move forward.

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