MONTREAL – Scoring a goal at the Bell Centre was big for fourth-line checker Michael Blunden.
Blunden scored his first in 18 games as a Canadien as Montreal downed the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-1 on Saturday night. While the 25-year-old was born in Toronto, he said he grew up in the suburb of Montreal West cheering for the Canadiens.
“It was huge,” Blunden said. “It was fortunate my parents were here in the stands.
“My mom and dad are from Montreal and my dad was a huge Habs fan as a kid, so I’m sure he’s pretty ecstatic right now.”
Blunden and Max Pacioretty scored 1:33 apart in the second period to lift Montreal over Tampa Bay in a battle of struggling clubs.
Eric Cole added a power-play goal in the final minute for the Canadiens (16-18-7), who evened their home record to 7-7-6 and posted a second win in a row for only the fourth time this season.
After losses in Toronto and Ottawa, the Lightning (17-20-3) were swept on a three-game road trip and are 6-15-3 away from home for the season.
Vincent Lecavalier scored for the Bolts, who are 0-4-1 in their last five on the road.
“It’s hard for everybody,” said goaltender Mathieu Garon. “It seems we do it every game, when we give up a goal we give up a second one.
“We wanted points on this trip. We played well the last two and didn’t get any. I gave up two quick goals and that’s what made the difference. It changed the whole game.”
The six-foot-three Blunden, who was acquired from Columbus in July for prospect Ryan Russell, is on his second call-up from AHL Hamilton to fill in for some injured forwards and looks to be making the most of it.
He got only 4:22 of ice time as the Lightning used their fourth line sparingly, but he played 13:37 in a 7-3 win over Winnipeg on Wednesday night. Mostly, coach Randy Cunneyworth wants him to use his big body to forecheck and play a strong defensive game.
Now it remains to be seen if he stays with the team when injured centre Scott Gomez returns, perhaps as soon as next week, or when Ryan White returns some time after that.
“I have a lot of confidence under Randy,” said Blunden. “He’s given me a lot of ice time and hopefully I can just keep going.
“My goal is to play in the NHL. It doesn’t matter if I play 30 seconds a night or 13 minutes. Whatever I can do.”
Blunden was drafted by Chicago in 2005 and was dealt to Columbus in 2009. Most of his career has been spent in the minors. His goal was only his third in the NHL.
He was parked at the edge of the crease and took a pass from Hal Gill before slipping a backhander under Garon’s glove to tie the game 5:44 into the second.
Pacioretty was left alone behind the Tampa Bay defence to take a long pass from P.K. Subban and go in alone to score at 7:17, ending a 10-game goal drought.
The big winger admitted this week he was playing tentatively after getting suspended three games for an open ice his on Nov. 26 that left Pittsburgh defenceman Kris Letang with a concussion.
“I talked to the coaches, and some guys in the room,” said Pacioretty. “I knew I had to get back to what made me successful and that’s what I did.”
Montreal outshot the Bolts 29-24.
A first period with few creative moments saw Tampa Bay take the lead on a strange goal. Dominic Moore the puck toward the net from the goal-line and Lecavalier tipped in inside the near post 3:24 into the game.
Cole tapped in his 17th on a power play in the final minute.
Montreal moved two points clear of the Lightning for 12th place in the Eastern Conference.
A group of about 200 pro-French protestors staged a peaceful demonstration in front of the Bell Centre before the game. They were upset that Cunneyworth was named as the team’s first non-french-speaking head coach in four decades.
“That’s their prerogative if that’s what they like,” Cunneyworth said of the protest. “I didn’t give it any more time than that, just to be aware of it. My attention was on getting ready for the game.”
The Lightning return home to face the Vancouver Canucks, while Montreal stays home to face former teammate Jaroslav Halak and the St. Louis Blues. Both games are on Tuesday.
A pre-game ceremonial faceoff was performed by three stars of the 1972 Summit Series: Yvan Cournoyer, Paul Henderson and Vladislav Tretiak. Henderson wore the No. 19 jersey he had on when he scored the series-clinching goal. All three got big ovations.
Notes: Petteri Nokolainen was a healthy scratch for the first time since he was acquired by Montreal. Yannick Weber also sat out, but Alexei Emelin, hit in the face by a puck on Friday, played in a face cage. … Ryan Malone returned from injury for Tampa Bay, Brett Connolly was back from the world junior hockey championship and call-up Pierre-Cedric Labrie made his NHL debut. … Brendan Mikkelson, acquired Friday from Calgary, was scratched.