MONTREAL – The Detroit Red Wings have been one of the NHL’s best teams over the past two decades, but injuries and inconsistency have resulted in the club struggling to keep pace in the playoff race for much of this season. Always disciplined and organized under the leadership of coach Mike Babcock, the red-and-whites came into the Bell Centre with the hopes of stealing two points on the road against a Canadiens team which had already punched its ticket to the postseason.
“We started the game really well,” offered Montreal head coach Michel Therrien. “The big worry was how we would respond playing in our building after being on the road for such a long time, but the guys came out and played really well in the first.”
Indeed, despite being on the road for the past ten days and playing last night in Ottawa, the Habs were able to take the early initiative against the Wings. Michael Bournival scored the lone goal of the first period after Ryan White made a courageous drive toward Jonas Gustavsson’s net, out-muscling two defenders and leaving his linemate with a simple tap-in to get his seventh marker of the season.
“He made all the effort by driving to the net. Credit to him for breaking into the zone and making the play happen,” acknowledged the rookie Bournival, who scored his first goal since November on the play.
In the second, the Habs continued to widen the gap with goals from Max Pacioretty and Brian Gionta. In all alone on a breakaway, Pacioretty froze Gustavsson with a shoulder drop, then deposited the puck low far-side for his team-leading 39th goal of the season. Minutes later, captain Gionta, making his 300th regular-season appearance for the Canadiens, tapped home a nifty Lars Eller feed to give his team a comfortable 3-0 lead. Over the years, Gionta has transitioned from big-time scorer to dependable two-way workhorse. Counted on by his coach to play big minutes on the penalty kill and against the other teams’ best, the American has quietly notched 17 goals in his 2013-14 campaign, the second-highest total among his team’s right-wingers.
“Brian is our captain and our leader. He played great in a huge game for us,” praised coach Therrien, who slotted Gionta alongside Eller and a resurgent Rene Bourque.
After Gionta’s goal, however, the Habs’ fortune seemed to hit the skids. The Montrealers stopped challenging the Wing’s defense corps and were handily out-shot 15-4 in the second period. Detroit continued the onslaught early in the third and goaded the Habs into penalty trouble. Pavel Dastyuk got the Wings on the board with a powerplay goal at 5:11, Luke Glendening scored his first career NHL goal 36 seconds later, and Niklas Kronwall’s powerplay point shot went post-and-in at 10:44 of the final frame, leaving the hometown faithful stunned and confused.
To the Canadiens’ credit, the team worked through its issues with no panicking. Therrien called for a timeout to allow his team some time to refocus. After the short interlude, the team soon began to once again move up on the scoreboard.
“We certainly lost some momentum towards the end of the second and early in the third. We let them get back in the game, but we showed a lot of poise sticking with it and not getting rattled with it,” said Gionta, who corralled a long Lars Eller feed, streaked into the Detroit zone and saw his hard centring pass for Bourque bounce into the goal off a defender. The goal would hold up and helped the veteran earn first-star honors in his milestone game. “It’s always fun to have games like these. I’m proud to be a member of this organization it’s been a great run. I’m very fortunate to have played here and be a part of the history.”
Having learned their lesson, the Habs kept pressing late into the third period. Two minutes after Gionta made it 4-3, Tomas Plekanec bounced a puck off Alex Galchenyuk and in to cap off the scoring. With the Tampa Bay Lightning losing 5-2 against the Dallas Stars, the Habs are now four points up and have the inside track on claiming home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs against Tampa.
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.
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