MONTREAL – Playing against one of the top NHL teams brought out the best in the Canadiens.
Montreal limited the Blackhawks, the league’s most potent offence, to only 20 shots on net in its 2-1 overtime victory over Chicago.
Chicago entered the Bell Centre with a league-best 165 goals scored this season, an average of 3.58 goals-per-game. Four of the league’s 15 best point-getters—Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith—play for the Blackhawks.
The Canadiens shut them down on Saturday.
“That’s what we wanted to do coming in,” said Habs captain Brian Gionta. “They have a lot of offensive power, obviously, that you need to be aware of. We did a good job of handling them.”
Gionta’s line frustrated Chicago’s big names all night. Keith and Kane were kept off the scoreboard, while Toews and Sharp were kept to a shot and an assist apiece.
“It was a good test for us,” said Gionta. “We responded right off the bat. We gave them the respect, but not too much. We played them hard, we knew what to expect, we came in with a game plan and stuck with it.”
The Canadiens outshot the Blackhawks 38-20, and delivered twice as many hits.
Andrei Markov, who scored both goals for Montreal, including one in overtime, thought his team played their best game of the season.
“Every time we play against a team like Chicago that’s high in the standings, it’s a big challenge,” said Markov. “And we responded well.”
The Blackhawks are currently in third place in the Western Conference.
Markov took a deflected pass from Max Pacioretty and found the roof of the net at 1:28 of overtime to beat Montreal native Corey Crawford and secure the victory for the Canadiens.
“We have to continue the same way,” added Markov, who claimed he closed his eyes as he fired home his game-winner. “That’s our game. We have to try to play that game every night. If you play hard every game like tonight, success will be on your side.”
Crawford was otherwise outstanding in net for the Blackhawks (29-8-10), stopping 36-of-38 shots he faced in the loss. The 29-year-old missed nearly a month of play with a lower-body injury and is winless (0-1-3) since his return.
But Crawford made key saves in the first period to preserve the scoreless draw after Chicago ran into penalty trouble, and made a freakish save at the end of the second to keep the deficit at one.
With P.K. Subban in the box for delay of game, a sprawled-out, stickless Crawford robbed Lars Eller from close range with the blade of his skate.
“It was a great play,” said head coach Joel Quenneville of his goaltender’s spectacular save. “He stayed with it. He held his ground well, made a nice skate save. Whatever you want to call what he did … it was nice to see.”
After a few close calls by the Blackhawks to start the second, including Sharp missing an open net high and wide, and Kane hitting the crossbar, Markov broke the deadlock at 12:54 for his fourth of the year.
With six-foot-five Habs enforcer George Parros screening him, Crawford couldn’t react quickly enough when Markov’s wrist shot flew past his blocker.
“I don’t think so, I don’t think so,” repeated Parros when asked if he got his stick on it. “I wish it did. I knew I had a good screen on the goalie, so I just wanted to let it go through me and see what would happen.”
Parros has often been left out of the Canadiens lineup. He suffered two concussions this season, and only dressed in 10 games. He finished the game with a shot on net and a plus-1 rating.
“I’ve been looking for some positivity this year and I finally got some there,” said Parros. “It was good to be part of a goal to help our team.”
Chicago found their equalizer at 9:22 of the third when Marian Hossa deflected Toews’ pass over Carey Price’s outstretched pads. Sharp also got an assist on the goal.
Bryan Bickell hit the post to Price’s left with just over a minute to play in the third period before the game was sent to overtime.
Price finished with 19 saves as Montreal improved to 26-15-5.
“If you looked at statistics before the game, the advantage went to the Blackhawks,” said head coach Michel Therrien. “But statistics are in the past. What matters to us is tonight’s game. We can control the present. We can focus on the present.”
The Canadiens have now won six in a row against the Blackhawks as the host team. Chicago’s last win in Montreal was on Dec. 3, 2001.
Notes: The Blackhawks had a 10-game point streak snapped after a 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Wednesday.…Parros returned to the lineup while defenceman Francis Bouillon was a healthy scratch.…The Canadiens are in fourth place in the Eastern Conference.…Montreal and Chicago face off again on April 9 in Chicago.