MONTREAL — Sighs of relief joined enthusiastic whoops of excitement on the Montreal Canadiens' bench Saturday night.
Tomas Tatar had buried the shootout winner and the Habs had edged the Vancouver Canucks 5-4. For the first time this season, Montreal chalked up a victory outside of regulation.
In nine other games, the Canadiens (14-8-9) had to settle for a single point.
"It's definitely nice to get the proverbial monkey off our back," said goalie Carey Price. "I guess now we can just move on. We've got another one, we'll try and win that one."
Tatar deftly stick handled the puck in tight and when Canucks netminder Braden Holtby lunged right to make a stop, the veteran left-winger popped a backhander into the left side of the net.
His shot broke the stalemate in the sixth round of the shootout following a back-and-forth game that saw four lead changes.
"We were very happy with the win. It was a big roller coaster of a game," said Tatar, who had a goal and an assist in regulation, too. "We stayed with it and it’s a big two points, for sure."
Nick Suzuki, Joel Edmundson and Brendan Gallagher also found the back of the net for Montreal, while Shea Weber and Phillip Danault each tallied a pair of assists.
The Canadiens held one-goal leads heading into the second and third periods, but saw Vancouver strike early into each frame.
Twenty-two seconds into the third, Canucks' captain Bo Horvat won an offensive-zone faceoff and the puck slipped out to Quinn Hughes at the blue line. The defenceman unleashed a blast and Horvat, stationed at the front of the Habs net, tipped it in for the equalizer.
Tyler Motte gave the Canucks the lead 33 seconds later, collecting a pass from Jayce Hawryluk and whipping a shot in past Price.
The Canadiens refused to go quietly, however.
Danault won a faceoff midway through the period and Gallagher picked up the puck. He wasted no time in ripping a wrist shot past Holtby to make it 4-4.
“It was a tough game. Give Montreal credit. They played well tonight. It was a hard-fought game. I liked that we battled back," said Canucks coach Travis Green. "It was a hard game for our team and point well earned.”
Horvat had a two-point night with a goal and an assist. Jake Virtanen, Brock Boeser and Motte also scored for Vancouver (16-16-3), and Hughes added a pair of helpers.
It was a busy night for Holtby, who registered 36 saves in regulation. Price stopped 14-of-18 shots for the Canadiens.
Each side was perfect with the man advantage on Saturday, going 1-for-1 on the power play.
The game was the ninth and final meeting between the two teams this season. Montreal won the series with a 6-0-3 record. The Canucks snatched a 3-2 overtime victory from the Canadiens on Friday.
Vancouver was playing its fourth game in six days on Saturday, and fatigue played a role in the performance, Horvat said.
"We’re playing a back-to-back on a long road trip like this. A lot of hockey. Obviously it’s going to factor in. But no excuses," he said. "They were on a back-to-back, too. I think we were obviously a little tired, but at the same time, I thought we battled hard, stuck with our game, didn’t fold."
Montreal paid for their mistakes on Saturday, said interim coach Dominique Ducharme.
“I feel that we should have won in 60 minutes," he said.
Ducharme was happy to see his group finally earn a win outside of regulation, though.
"It's something that we can stop talking about," he said. "At one point, it becomes mental. It’s like a goal scorer scoring a goal when he’s in a slump. That’s how it starts."
The Canadiens would love to dominate all game every game, but that's simply not the reality in the NHL, Gallagher said.
"With the parity in the league and how competitive it is and how important every point is, it’s just not going to happen," he said. "You’re going to have to go through tight games, learn how to win tight hockey games.”
Gallagher may have a new good luck charm to help Montreal claw out victories in tough contests.
The Canadiens forward was spotted rubbing the helmet of teammate Jesperi Kotkaniemi as Tatar took to the ice in the shootout on Saturday. Gallagher said he used to rub Cale Fleury's head during shootouts, but the defenceman is currently stationed with the Laval Rockets in the American Hockey League, so he turned to Kotkaniemi on the bench.
“I kind of forgot about until right before (Tatar) went so that was the first time I started rubbing his head," Gallagher explained. "So next shootout, I’m pretty superstitious, so you can count on that being a thing I’ll be doing.”
The Canadiens will continue their homestand Monday, kicking off a three-game series with the Edmonton Oilers. The Canucks will host the Winnipeg Jets the same night.
NOTES: Saturday's result snapped a four-game win streak for Vancouver. … Horvat collected his 300th NHL point, notching an assist on Boeser's goal. … Canadiens centre Tyler Toffoli missed Saturday's game with a lower-body injury. Toffoli has been key to Montreal's offence this season, tallying 27 points (18 goals, nine assists) over 30 games. … Vancouver has placed forwards Elias Pettersson and Tanner Pearson on long-term injured reserve.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 20, 2021.