MONTREAL – If the Montreal Canadiens had lost the game, Max Pacioretty would have been kicking himself for a long time, despite scoring a hat trick.
With the Canadiens leading the Vancouver Canucks by only one goal midway through the second period on Thursday, a game Montreal would eventually win 5-2, Pacioretty was awarded two penalty shots in a two-minute span.
He missed them both.
For the first, Pacioretty was hooked on a breakaway by recently-acquired defenceman Raphael Diaz at 11:47. After the referee pointed to centre ice, the Canadiens’ leading goal-scorer walked in all alone, but shot high and wide.
“I thought a little bit too much before the shot,” said Pacioretty, who had already scored Montreal’s first goal earlier in the game. “That didn’t help me.”
Less than two minutes later, Alexandre Burrows took Pacioretty down on another breakaway, and the decision on the ice was the same.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Pacioretty. “I was just trying to catch my breath, wipe down my visor, buy myself a little extra time. That’s the last thing I would expect to happen so quickly after my first one.”
This time, Pacioretty lost control of the puck, bobbled it, and then took a weak backhand shot on Roberto Luongo, who made the pad save.
Pacioretty has taken three penalty shots in his career – two on Thursday, and another on Oct. 12, 2013, in Vancouver. Luongo, who made 25 saves on Thursday, got the better of him on all three occasions.
“He’s a big goalie, he’s a good goalie,” said Pacioretty of the Canucks netminder. “When it comes to penalty shots, he’s in my head.”
Despite missing both, Montreal’s leading scorer became the first Canadien in team history to take two penalty shots in the same game – let alone the same period.
Pacioretty redeemed himself at the start of the third, though, beating Luongo glove-side for his second of the game, the game-winner, and team-leading 25th goal of the season. He also added an empty-netter for his second hat trick of the season.
“He stuck with it,” said P.K. Subban of his power forward. “It says a lot about his character. It’s tough, especially for a guy like him who wants to score so badly. He scored two goals afterwards. It shows how mentally tough he is and determined he is. Kudos to him.”
The Canucks have lost six consecutive games for the first time in five years. The team is still winless (0-3) since coach John Tortorella’s return from a 15-day suspension.
After the two missed penalty shots, the Canucks (27-23-9) started the third period down 2-1, but couldn’t beat Carey Price for the equalizer. Price frustrated Vancouver’s shooters all night, stopping 42 shots for Montreal (31-21-6).
Tortorella called the game an “uphill battle.”
“Our first period was okay,” he said. “We played really well in the second. We just couldn’t carry it. We needed momentum early in the third period, and maybe score a goal to keep us going.”
The Canucks did get one back in the third when Alexander Edler beat Price far side with a wrist shot while the Canucks played 5-on-4. But it wasn’t enough.
Stuck on 63 points, Vancouver is holding on to the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. But Tortorella doesn’t think his players have the wrong attitude.
“That’s the only thing we can do as a club, right now, is stay positive,” said Tortorella. “Why lose that battle? The bench was alive, they played hard. That won’t be a problem. We need to continue working at this.”
After Pacioretty’s first goal of the game at 14:59 of the first period, Ryan White fired home his first goal of the season.
White couldn’t have asked for an easier first goal, taking advantage of a sprawled-out Luongo, who thought he was covering the puck, to fire a backhand shot into the roof of the net and give the Habs a 2-0 lead.
“I was making sure I put that one in, for sure. I saw the empty net, and I just wanted to make sure I didn’t give (Luongo) any opportunity to make the save. He was down and out, and I had to make sure.”
Dale Weise, in only his second game with Montreal, got an assist on the goal.
Former-Hab Chris Higgins made it 2-1 for the visitors at 2:31 of the second period, beating Price on the power play with a redirected shot off his shin for his 16th goal of the year.
Montreal had killed off 28 straight penalties prior to Higgins’ power-play goal.
The Canadiens added a fourth goal when Edler kicked the puck into his own net at 8:14. Tomas Plekanec, the last Montreal player to touch the puck, was credited with the goal.
The Canadiens had lost four in a row in January, but have since gone 4-1-1.
“We’re a more confident group,” said White. “When you lose, you’re second-guessing yourself. You’re maybe not making the right plays all the time, they come back to haunt you.
“When we’re confident, when we’re playing as a group, those mistakes tend to slide sometimes.”
Notes: Henrik Sedin (rib) and Dan Hamhuis (leg) were not in the lineup for the Canucks. The injury even forced Sedin to withdraw from the Olympic Games earlier in the day.…Weise and Diaz both faced their former teams after they were traded on Monday.…Travis Moen (lower body) did not dress for the Habs, and is listed as day-to-day.…This was the second of two games between Montreal and Vancouver this season. The Canadiens beat the Canucks 4-1 on Oct. 12, 2013.