NEWARK – For the second time in three nights, the Habs stole two points from under the Devils’ noses. It wasn’t pretty, but Peter Budaj will gladly take the win.
The start of Wednesday night’s game, the second of a home-and-home matchup between New Jersey and Montreal, was in stark contrast to the first instalment of the series. The Habs jumped out of the gates and poured 13 shots on Cory Schneider. After a perfect transition play orchestrated by Tomas Plekanec, Daniel Briere sent the puck cross-ice to a streaking Brian Gionta. The Habs captain redirected the puck behind an outstretched Schneider, giving his squad a one-goal edge over his former club.
The rhythm of the game then took a decided downturn, with New Jersey locking down the middle of the ice in an effort to capitalize on an eventual error by Michel Therrien’s charges, who have played four games in the past six days.
“We are in a difficult situation right now, with so many games in so few days,” admitted Therrien. “There have been mental mistakes made which gave our opponents some scoring chances, but I liked our intensity in the first period. We sat back a bit too much in the middle of the game, which is something I addressed with my team, but the Devils really put a lot of pressure on us as well.”
The pressure would pay off for the home team in the third, as Andrei Loktionov and a rejuvenated Michael Ryder teamed up to turn a one-goal deficit into a one-goal lead for the Devils by the middle of the period.
Lars Eller tied the game once again off a Galchenyuk feed, silencing the crowd momentarily. But, with just over 60 seconds left on the clock, a defensive blunder near the Montreal goal allowed Patrik Elias to score again. For a moment, all seemed lost, but that was not the mood on the visiting bench.
“It was an unexpected third period, since both teams had a very solid defensive structure most of the game. The game opened up because of some individual mistakes, but no matter what we always believed in our chances. Even when down a goal late, I had a feeling that we would be able to make something happen,” offered the Habs head coach, who sent his top-5 onto the ice with less than one minute remaining in regulation time.
The move paid off, as David Desharnais tipped a point shot just under the crossbar to send the game to overtime. The five extra minutes solved nothing, but Desharnais came up big once again, scoring his second shootout winner of the year. Needless to say, Budaj was pleased with the final outcome.
“Not much happened for two periods, and then in the end, boom, boom; boom! It was definitely a crazy turnaround,” offered the Slovak netminder. “It’s not a big deal for me. All that matters is that we’re winning”
When asked about whether he was aware of the Devils’ futility in the shootout thus far this season, the Hab indicated to the negative. Ahead of Wednesday night's shootout, New Jersey had yet to score a shootout marker thus far this season.
“Absolutely not, I don’t really pay attention to the stats. The shootout is a one-on-one battle, nothing else. I just go out there and try to make saves. It helped that we got two goals,” insisted Budaj.
The netminder was beaten by a terrific move by rookie Reid Boucher, who was playing in his first NHL game. Budaj did, however, proceed to turn away the next two Devils shooters to earn the win in his seventh start of the season.
Despite the crazy end to Wednesday night's tilt, there isn't much time for the Habs’ coaching staff to break down the details of the back-and-forth contest against New Jersey as the Canadiens battle the Bruins on Thursday at the Bell Centre with top spot in the Atlantic division up for grabs.
“On Thursday night, I believe that we’ll find the energy to bear down and play a good game,” underlined Therrien.
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.
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