MONTREAL – There’s been a series of milestone moments for Claude Lemieux in his unlikely return to the NHL, but Saturday night’s game in Montreal came close to topping them all.
All that was missing was a victory.
San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan put Lemieux in the starting lineup alongside first-liners Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau in his return to the city where he began his NHL career 26 years ago.
“It was special for the coach to give me a shot to start on the top line in Montreal, it’s something I’ll never forget,” said Lemieux, 43, who had his parents, wife and kids in the crowd. “I hope to get a winning goal in the playoffs to pay him back for that. It was a real honour.”
The sellout Bell Centre crowd of 21,273 gave Lemieux a warm ovation when his name was announced in the starting lineup, and cheered when he touched the puck on his first shift.
“I think I was too nervous to hear the crowd, to be honest,” Lemieux said. “It was really special, but I would have liked to get the win.”
The Sharks may indeed have deserved a victory in this game, storming back from a 3-0 first intermission deficit to dominate the final 40 minutes of play. They outshot the Habs 34-11 over the last two periods, but the Sharks couldn’t get the tying goal after scoring twice in a span of 49 seconds early in the second and ultimately lost 3-2.
The Sharks were planning to use regular starter Evgeni Nabokov – second in the league in wins with a 32-8-7 record – but had to switch plans Saturday morning when he came down with the flu.
Backup Brian Boucher learned Saturday morning that he would be in net, and after allowing three goals in a span of four shots in the first he settled down and kept San Jose in the game. McLellan said using Nabokov in relief was not an option.
“We weren’t going there, there was no point putting (Nabokov) in with how he was feeling,” McLellan said. “Boucher was the guy, he carried the mail and he recovered well.”
Boucher said the short notice wasn’t a factor in the difficult start and, like many of his teammates, felt he shouldn’t be the only to blame for the early three-goal deficit.
“I think it was everybody,” he said. “I could have been sharper, but at the same time we all could have been sharper defensively.”