MONTREAL – Rookie defenceman Brendon Nash overcame the jitters that came from playing his first home game in Montreal and anchored a second-period offensive explosion that sent his Canadiens to victory.
Nash had the winning goal and added an assist as the Canadiens beat the Minnesota Wild 4-3 in pre-season action Sunday night.
Nash was signed out of Cornell University as a free agent last March, and the 24-year-old called playing with the Canadiens in Montreal a “surreal experience.”
“I had goosebumps just watching the first game last Wednesday. (Playing) was great, and it’s just a fantastic place to play,” he said.
Andreas Engqvist, Ryan White and Dustin Boyd also scored for Montreal. Max Pacioretty added two assists, and his playmaking was lauded by linemate Ryan White after the game.
“Max said early in the first period to keep playing off each other and keep feeding off each other and we’ll used that energy to keep playing,” White said. “He played awesome, going to the net hard and making plays. When he plays like a big man out there he’s tough to stop.”
The game turned in the Canadiens’ favour when White, Boyd and Nash scored on five shots in a span of 1:39 in the second period. The Canadiens (2-2-0) outshot Minnesota (0-3-1) 22-5 over two periods, and 28-14 on the night.
“We were terrible in the first two periods,” said Minnesota’s Matt Cullen. “We have to do something in our last two exhibition games before we go to Finland. We’ve got to get it together.”
Cal Clutterbuck, Justin Falk and Kyle Brodziak replied for the Wild.
Montreal stymied the Wild in their own end in the first period, jumping out to a quick 1-0 lead when forward Ian Schultz forced a turnover deep in Minnesota’s end, setting up linemate Engvist for his first of the pre-season. Less than three minutes later, Clutterbuck finished off a nice passing-play with Antti Miettinen and Marek Zidlicky to tie the score at 1-1 .
The second period featured two heavyweight tilts, with Montreal’s Alex Henry getting the better of Petr Kalus, before Minnesota’s Drew Bagnall won a tight decision against Schultz. The penalties continued to flow, with the Canadiens falling short on five power-play opportunities in the second period alone, including two 5-on-3 chances.
Despite their troubles with the man-advantage, the Canadiens were able to sneak three goals past Wild goalie Anton Khudobin,was left to fend for himself as his team failed to register a shot on the Canadiens goal until the 14:13 mark of the second.
White scored his first of the pre-season, tipping a shot from his knees that came off Alexandre Picard’s stick. Just 34 seconds later, Boyd who was acquired from Nashville in an off-season trade, stripped defenceman Clayton Stoner and scored to but the Habs up 3-1.
Nash then added his first pre-season goal to make it 4-1.
Falk split the Canadiens defence and beat Alex Auld for his first of the pre-season at 13:21 of the third period. Brodziak made the score 4-3 with 13 seconds remaining, but Minnesota was unable to complete the comeback.
The Wild will play two games against the Columbus Blue Jackets to round out their exhibition schedule. The team will then depart for Tampere, Finland to finish training camp before meeting the Carolina Hurricanes in the NHL’s regular season debut in Helsinki the following week.
The Canadiens welcome the Florida Panthers to the Bell Centre on Monday. They play host to the Buffalo Sabres Thursday, before travelling to Quebec City to play the New York Islanders in the team’s final game of pre-season action on Saturday.
Notes: Both The Wild and Canadiens are expected to announce cuts to their respective training camp rosters on Monday. … Minnesota back-up goalie Josh Harding tore both the anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in his right knee in pre-season action against the St. Louis Blues last Friday—his season is in question… Homegrown former Canadien Guillaume Latendresse played his second game in Montreal since being traded to the Wild for forward Benoit Pouliot on November 23rd, 2009. Latendresse scored 25 goals in 55 games for the Wild last season. … Ryan O’Byrne was the only Canadien defenceman dressed in the game to have played in more than ten NHL regular season games last season.