WINNIPEG — It was vintage Carey Price in the Montreal net on Monday night as the Canadiens closed out the first half of the shortened 56-game season in style.
The veteran netminder delivered a stellar performance in a 4-2 road win over Winnipeg, providing a steady presence throughout and coming up with key saves when called upon.
Price made 34 saves in his 700th career game and really shone in the third period as the Jets pressed for the equalizer. Tyler Toffoli iced the win with an empty-netter — his second goal of the game — as the Habs (13-8-7) ended a two-game mini-skid.
“He stood in there all night for us and played absolutely amazing,” said Montreal forward Josh Anderson. “What a milestone for him tonight to get that win.”
Price made a great left toe save on a Paul Stastny redirect early in the third period with Winnipeg on the man advantage. He gave up a power-play goal to Kyle Connor on a blistering one-timer at 5:47, but held the Jets in check from there.
“When he gets feeling good, it seems like nothing is going by him,” said Montreal defenceman Josh Kulak. “It’s nice having him back there. He’s a leader on our team and he sets the tone when he makes some big saves.”
Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Josh Anderson had the other Montreal goals. Connor also scored Winnipeg’s first goal on the power play.
The Jets (17-9-2) pulled netminder Connor Hellebuyck for an extra attacker with about two minutes to go but Toffoli put the game away at 19:12.
Hellebuyck made 27 saves.
The Canadiens took advantage of a turnover by Andrew Copp near the Winnipeg bench to open the scoring at 4:01. Anderson dived at the loose puck, tapping it to Jonathan Drouin who fed it to Kotkaniemi for the tap-in goal.
Drouin stole the puck from Neal Pionk early in the second period and drew a hooking penalty as he broke in on Hellebuyck. Montreal scored on the ensuing power play as Anderson snapped it in from a tight angle at 5:33.
With Kotkaniemi off for holding, the Jets answered at 8:08. Connor curled in on his off-wing and got a snapshot by a screened Price.
Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher was awarded a penalty shot after being taken down by Josh Morrissey midway through the stanza. Hellebuyck got a piece of Gallagher’s wrist shot to keep it a one-goal game.
Gallagher deserved an assist for creating another costly Pionk turnover. The Canadiens took advantage down low as Toffoli — on a 3-on-0 break — deked Hellebuyck and roofed it for an unassisted goal at 19:13.
“Pionk is trying to get that puck out, he’s got three guys on him and ends up falling down low,” said Jets forward Nikolaj Ehlers. “I mean (crap) happens. Excuse my language. But it’s just the way it is.”
Montreal improved to 8-3-6 on the road while the Jets fell to 9-5-1 at home.
“It was just a tight game,” said Jets coach Paul Maurice. “There was broken plays, flurries to the net at both ends, but not a tremendous amount of sustained (offensive) zone time.
“I think that’s a function of both teams competing pretty hard defensively.”
Winnipeg remained four points behind first-place Toronto (40 points) in the North Division standings. The Jets have two games in hand on the idle Maple Leafs.
Montreal is alone in fourth place with 33 points, also with two games in hand on Toronto.
The Canadiens announced earlier in the day that defenceman Ben Chiarot is expected to miss six to eight weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a fractured hand.
Montreal and Winnipeg will face off again Wednesday at Bell MTS Place.