MONTREAL – With some relatives still unaccounted for in the devastation of the Haiti earthquake, it wasn’t easy for Georges Laraque to keep his mind on hockey.
But then a moment of pure joy came for the Montreal enforcer as he bore down in the crease early in the second period to score his first goal in two seasons as a Canadien in a 5-3 victory over the slumping Dallas Stars on Thursday night.
“To have that happen tonight was almost a miracle,” Laraque said.
Before the game, the Canadiens held a moment’s silence and launched a fund-raising campaign for the earthquake victims. In a scoreboard appeal, team president Pierre Boivin pointed out that the city is home to about 100,000 Haitians and that two players in the game – Laraque and Stars defenceman Maxime Fortunus – are Montrealers of Haitian descent.
“It was tough getting into the game,” said Laraque, whose parents are from Haiti. “What was going on there was going through my head.
“And to be playing against another Haitian – what are the odds of that?”
Laraque got some good news Thursday. His uncle who spends winters in Haiti is OK. But there are still distant relatives he hasn’t heard from.
Brian Gionta, playing his 500th NHL game, scored two power play goals, including the game-winner early in the third period, while Benoit Pouliot and Mike Cammalleri also scored for Montreal (23-21-4).
The Canadiens have won eight of their last 12 games and are 2-0-1 thus far on a four-game homestand that ends Saturday against Ottawa.
Toby Petersen, Steve Ott and Mike Modano scored for the Stars (19-17-11), who have lost three in a row and six of their last seven games. Dallas, which ended a three-game road trip, is winless (0-7-2) in its last nine games on the road.
The Laraque goal overshadowed it all.
A bad back has limited the genial Laraque to only 59 games over two seasons since he joined the Canadiens, but there was a sense from his first hard-working shift that it may be the night his drought ends.
When his second whack at the rebound of a Marc-Andre Bergeron shot went in off goalie Marty Turco’s arm, smiling teammates mobbed him and the Bell Centre crowd of 21,273 rose for a long standing ovation.
“He played a pretty special game, probably his best of the year,” Gionta said of Laraque. “It was a big celebration for everybody.”
Afterwards, Laraque spoke of mixed emotions; how he feels he should be in Haiti helping victims even though he knows it could be dangerous and that it would be difficult to leave the team.
“Now my sister wants to go down there and I don’t want her to,” said Laraque. “It’s chaos. It’s survival mode there now.
“I know it’s hard to be here not doing anything. Is it selfish for me to be here playing hockey when there are people down there I could help? If someone’s stuck under a house, I’m strong enough to get them out. But what can I do? It’s very dangerous.”
He will be doing all he can in coming weeks to help fund-raising efforts, and at least now he’s got a goal.
“It was embarrassing that it went on so long,” he said. “Every team I’ve been on I score six or seven goals a year.”
The Stars struck first as Petersen chipped the puck past Hal Gill at the Dallas blue-line to create a 2-on-1 rush. Petersen beat Carey Price with a low shot to the far corner at 8:25.
Montreal’s league-leading power play, which was 2-for-2 on the night, struck at 12:44 as Gionta banged in a Scott Gomez pass from close range.
But Dallas got one back with the man advantage at 15:08 as former Canadien Stephane Robibas’ blast from the point went in off Ott.
Pouliot put Montreal ahead at 6:44 of the second as Matt Niskanen threw the puck in front of his own goal, to be picked off and backhanded under the crossbar from close range. It was Pouliot’s fifth goal in 10 games since joining Montreal in a trade from Minnesota.
Modano tied it at 14:55 after Petersen burst down the right side and fed the puck in front, where Gill cleared it onto the veteran’s stick for a shot into an open net.
After Gionta scored, Roman Hamrlik caught Cammalleri with a stretch pass to the far blue-line and the team’s goal-scoring leader wheeled and beat Turco with a wrist shot for his 21st of the season at 16:41.
Price made 33 saves in the win, while Turco stopped 23 shots for Dallas.
Stars forward James Neal missed more than 13 minutes of the second period after damaging a couple of teeth after a collision with a teammate. He was back for the third.
The Stars used captain Brenden Morrow for the first time on the top line with Brad Richards and Loui Eriksson in a bid for offence.
Notes: Canadiens defenceman Ryan O’Byrne did not dress. He missed the previous four games to be with an ailing family member in Victoria. …Brian Sutherby, Warren Peters and Jeff Woywitka did not dress for Dallas.