NEW YORK – Peter Budaj put on a goaltending clinic on Monday night as the Canadiens blanked the Rangers 2-0 at Madison Square Garden.
The Slovakian put up his 11th career shutout by turning aside all 27 New York shots he faced, all but completely neutralizing the Rangers’ offense with textbook rebound control. Though this was only his second start of the season, the Habs’ backup was ready from the get-go.
“We knew that this was going to be a difficult match since they were playing their home opener. We focused on what we could control, and the result was a nice team effort and a good victory,” offered the 31-year-old netminder.
Known for being a hard worker who is nearly always the first one out on the practice rink, the veteran prides himself on his professional approach to the game.
“No matter how many starts I get, I try to practice my hardest and help my teammates get better. That’s my job,” underlined Budaj.
Budaj was also quick to give credit to the gritty blue-liners playing in front of him. A workmanlike performance from the six Habs rearguards saw assistant captain Andrei Markov, usually an offensive threat, snuff out several of the Rangers' offensive charges with minutes left to play in the game.
“The guys played very hard,” praised Budaj, who is now 2-0-0 with a minuscule 0.50 goals-against average on the year. “Toward the end of the match, they blocked a lot of shots. Markov, in particular, had three or four heavy blocks on the same shift late in the third period.”
A big part of the collective effort was the debut of rugged defenseman Douglas Murray, who missed the first eleven games with an upper-body injury suffered in training camp. The Swede made his presence felt with several hard checks along the boards, and was all but impossible to bump off the puck when breaking out of the zone.
“It was tough to come back right away, but I didn’t hurt the team and Budaj was there to help me out when I needed it,” acknowledged Murray. “We can take a lot of pride from this shutout. The defensemen did their parts to help him get the shutout. He didn’t face that many shots, but he did make some very spectacular saves on those occasions.”
With the Rangers at bay, the Canadiens’ forwards were able to strike back. Tomas Plekanec scored the eventual game-winner during the second period, and Alex Galchenyuk iced the game late in the third with the help of partners Brendan Gallagher and Lars Eller.
“Special teams play an important role in these types of tight-checking games; tonight they made the difference,” noted head coach Michel Therrien. “Our first goal came on the powerplay, after that we did a good job defensively to give support to Budaj. We concentrated on not allowing many odd-man rushes, and our goaltender made some key saves."
With their next tilt less than 24 hours away, the Habs’ bench boss made a calculated gamble by starting his reliever in lieu of Carey Price. That gamble paid off handsomely, allowing the Canadiens to up their record to 7-5-0 on the year.
“You can’t ask for a better performance. It was a well-deserved game. Toward the end of the game our defensemen did a great job blocking shots and helping [Budaj] keep the shutout,” summarized Therrien, whose troops blocked a season-high 28 shots.
He also had words of praise for Murray, who lined up alongside Francis Bouillon in both even-strength and penalty-kill situations.
“Murray is an effective player. He’s very solid on the puck and uses his size well. We saw tonight that he’s a player who can bring us depth," emphasized Therrien.
Murray, Budaj and the rest of the Canadiens’ defensive crew certainly made the grade in the Big Apple on Monday night. Next on the syllabus: a game against the Stars at the Bell Centre on Tuesday.
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.
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