SAINT PAUL – The Canadiens might have left the Xcel Energy Center on Friday night empty-handed after dropping a 4-3 decision to the Wild, but rallying from a two-goal deficit in the third period and pushing their opponents to the brink should have them thinking positive thoughts come Saturday morning.
Going up against the league’s stingiest defense in Minnesota, the Canadiens did something that no other team had managed to do thus far this year against Wild starter Josh Harding – beat the stellar netminder more than twice in a single tilt. They also peppered the Minnesota goaltender with 31 shots. Interestingly enough, the Wild sat atop the league in both shots-against and goals-against per game entering the contest, and had already held their opponents to less than 20 shots in a single game on five occasions this year.
Unfortunately, the Habs’ tardy offensive push came after falling behind a squad that has prided itself on denying teams time and space for the better part of the 2013-14 regular season campaign. Michel Therrien’s troops knew full well that they were in for a battle of wills in the Midwest, and on Friday night the Wild ultimately won that war.
“They’re fast. They get on you. It was tough the first half of the game to get any pressure on their defense. We weren’t coming out of our zone clean, and we couldn’t establish a forecheck. If you don’t do that, you’re not going to get much going,” affirmed captain Brian Gionta, who scored the game-tying goal with 9:47 remaining in the third period after the Canadiens pulled to within one on a power play goal by P.K. Subban just over three minutes earlier. “We made a push at the end of the second. That goal [by Jason Pominville to make it 4-3] with a couple of minutes to play was deflating.
“We didn’t execute. We didn’t play a full game,” added the Canadiens captain, whose club fell to 0-5-1 on the year when trailing after 40 minutes. “There were spurts where we did it and you saw where we were successful, but this league’s too tough.”
Brendan Gallagher, who opened the scoring for the Canadiens on Friday night, was quick to point out that besting a team like the Wild mandated a quick and active opening frame. In the aftermath of the team's second road loss of the season, however, the 21-year-old believes that they ultimately came up short in that regard, and that cost them a valuable two points in the standings.
“Our start was slow. When you come into other teams’ buildings, it’s important to get off to a good start. It seems like we chased the puck all game. That’s what we did. We had a good push back, but you can’t get yourself in a hole like that,” mentioned Gallagher, who now sits atop the Canadiens’ scoring list alongside Tomas Plekanec with six goals on the season. “You’ve got to play for a full sixty minutes in this league. You can’t afford a bad start, especially on the road. They’re a good team. They play hard.”
And, like the Canadiens, they appear to have no quit in them and remain unfazed when they have their backs against the wall. Mike Yeo’s club could have easily folded after Subban and Gionta's markers that tied things up, but instead they stayed the course and fought back to earn the win.
The reigning Norris Trophy winner - who leads the Canadiens with 10 assists and 13 points on the season - might have been disappointed in the final outcome of the club's first trip to Minnesota since March 2011, but he believes that they still put forward an honest effort in defeat.
“We’ve got to give Minnesota credit. They played a pretty consistent game. But, at the same token, we did a lot of great things. We put pucks on net and their goalie made some good saves,” insisted Subban, who logged 24:05 of ice time on Friday night. “We’re not looking at ourselves here and saying that we didn’t play a good game. But, some mental breakdowns hurt us.”
Breakdowns aside, the Canadiens bench boss believes the positives in their loss to Minnesota certainly outweigh the negatives. With that in mind, Therrien will now lead his team into Colorado to battle one of the league's top two teams on Saturday night at the Pepsi Center, comfortable in the knowledge that his club boasts the ingredients necessary to get the job done no matter the opposition.
“I like the way we played. I think we deserved a better fate,” underlined Therrien, referencing his players' constant combativeness. “We managed to tie the score, and we’re leaving without the points. I think that our team worked hard enough to earn a win in this game.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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