After the ovation that greeted Saku Koivu skating to centre ice for the opening faceoff, the Bell Centre settled into a deep slumber.
The home team awakened in time to snatch a point, and the final few minutes had the fans in a frenzy.
But for much of the evening, the game limped along in a succession of curious reffing calls and no-calls and some excellent goaltending by Jonas Hiller.
Not that Carey Price was bad.
The first Anaheim goal, a Cam Fowler long shot on a ;power play, was deflected past Price. The subsequent two were scored from close in by two scorers who know how to go to the net and bury loose pucks past napping defenders: Bobby Ryan and Corey Perry.
On the Ryan goal, 16 minutes into the second period, Lars Eller was late getting back in coverage and Jacques Martin applied his Rookie Rule: One strike and you’re out.
Eller watched the rest of the game from the bench, his night’s work done after 10 shifts and 5:54 of ice time.
That meant Travis Moen and Mathieu Darche seeing third-period duty with Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn.
And it produced Darche’s late goal, a deflection of Yannick Weber’s shot with less than four minutes left.
Then it got crazy.
Memo to fans who knock Jacques Martin’s system for late-game passivity and inability to protect leads:
What do you say to Randy Carlyle?
With his team up 3-1, Carlyle watched his Ducks surrender a whopping 23 third-period shots to the energized Canadiens. Hiller saw many of them, but the Anaheim goaltender made some huge saves and topped his performance by stoning Benoit Pouliot, AK46 and Brian Gionta in the shootout.
Because Ryan was the only shootout scorer, he became an automatic choice as the game’s first star.
But fans voted the Second Star to Koivu, who had one assist and took three minor penalties, when Hiller was the obvious choice for the honour.
Oh well, it gave number 11 the chance to wave to his fans one more time. We won’t see Koivu at the Bell Centre again this season unless the Canadiens and Ducks are Stanley Cup finalists.
Anaheim is fifth in the Western Conference, the Canadiens clinging to sixth in the East. A chance to renew the love affair with Koivu in late May/early June is possible, but don’t bet your Lars Eller rookie card on it.
Eller can derive solace from the slow, painstaking develop of Max Pacioretty. The former first-round draft choice continued to solidify his status as a Top Six forward and a ficture on the Scott Gomez-Brian Gionta line.
Max-Pac had two goals on six shots, adding a couple hits, bad ribs and all.
Later, Pacioretty talked about the Canadiens’ late-game urgency.
“We played with desperation,” he said. “If we put 60 minutes like that together, we can play against any team.”
It was odd that the Canadiens’ desperate 20 minutes occurred at the end of their second game in 24 hours.
Now they have two days to prepare for a visit to Philadelphia.
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Odd stats for James Wisniewski and P.K. Subban.
Each had SEVEN shots blocked by Anaheim defenders.
Subban got six of his shots on goal, and another three missed the net. That’s 16 pucks off the stick of Mr. Excitement.
• • •
The Wiz led all players with a whopping 30:30 ToI – including 8:18 on the PP.
Subban’s 26:18 included 7:52 on the right point when the Canadiens had the man advantage.