MONTREAL – Holding the league’s most explosive offense to 20 shots and a single goal, the Canadiens sent the reigning Stanley Cup champs packing with one of their most complete performances of the year.
From Brian Gionta and Travis Moen’s shutdown efforts and another Selke-worthy night from Tomas Plekanec, who fired 11 shots while charged with shutting down the Hawks’ all-Olympic line of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa, to Carey Price’s 19 saves and the team combining to out-shoot, out-hit and out-score the Western powerhouse, every player in the Canadiens’ lineup made a strong case to earn first star honors in the 2-1 overtime win.
“It took a good effort from everyone to play well with and without the puck,” stressed head coach Michel Therrien. “We’re focusing on the details and the players have been receptive. Even the players on the bench, when their teammates are in the right position and making the right plays, we feel their enthusiasm. You can feel the chemistry in here.
“When we looked at the stats before the game, you had to give the edge to the Hawks,” he added. “But what I told the players was that statistics reflect what’s happened in the past; what matters to us is the present and that’s what we focused on controlling tonight.”
Since the Habs can’t have 20 guys come out to toss celebratory pucks into the crowd postgame, the actual distinction of the night’s No. 1 star was reserved for the hero of the hour, Andrei Markov. The Russian blue-liner played a team-high 25:52, had three shots, three blocked shots and scored both of his club’s goals in the evening, including the overtime-winner.
“That was a huge game for us,” admitted Markov, whose team improved to 10-8-1 against Western opponents with the win over the NHL’s No. 2 team. “Everybody knew it was going to be a big challenge. We knew we were going to play against one of the best teams in the league and I think that was the best game we’ve played so far. We played from start to finish. We played a strong game and we have to continue playing that same way.”
Solving Crawford not once, but twice in the evening, Markov also discovered the recipe for repeating his scoring success down the road this year.
“Close your eyes and shoot the puck,” joked the 35-year-old assistant captain, who was one of the combined 18 recently-named 2014 Olympians in uniform for Saturday’s game. “When you play hard and you play well, it’s always fun to play. It was our best game so far. We have to play that game every night. If we do that, results are going to be on our side.”
Not surprised to see Markov come up clutch yet again, sophomore forward Brendan Gallagher has already picked up on the intangibles the career-Hab brings to the blue line on a nightly basis.
“We rely on him a lot. He’s a veteran guy who’s been through a lot of things and we lean on him,” shared Gallagher, who dropped the gloves with Kris Versteeg in the third scrap of his young career on Saturday night. “For him to come out and play the way he did, he brought it tonight like he brings it every night. For it to show on the scoresheet and see that emotion, it’s hard not to be excited.”
Channeling his inner-Gallagher with his ear-to-ear smile following his opening marker, the veteran rearguard also did his best Alex Galchenyuk impression with his uncharacteristically demonstrative celebration following his first game winning goal of the season – something neither of the young stars will likely let him forget anytime soon.
“It was fun to see that. You should ask Chucky; he was in here making fun of his celebration out there. It was the most emotion I’ve ever seen from him,” cracked Gallagher, before breaking out into his trademark grin. “Actually, no, that’s not true; we had a practice earlier this year where he hit the crossbar and the coaches had to skate, so this was the second biggest smile I’ve ever seen on Marky’s face.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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