EDMONTON – Almost a year after a big hit by Zdeno Chara threathend to end his career, Max Pacioretty is on a roll.
The Montreal forward scored his 29th and 30th goals of the season and added an assist as the Canadiens skated to a 5-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday.
Montreal head coach Randy Cunneyworth is continually amazed by how well Pacioretty has performed this season after last year’s hit in a game against Boston that left the 23-year-old with a severe concussion and a broken vertebra in his neck.
“That’s a heck of a thing to come back from,” he said. “The dedication and the work he has had to do is something. He came back bigger and stronger. That line as a group has done a lot of good work all year.”
P.K. Subban had a goal and two assists, setting up both of Pacioretty’s goals.
“I’m happy that I could help him get to 30 goals,” Subban said. “I don’t know if that means I get dinner or something like that. For a guy that has already gone through so much in his career with the neck injury, it’s inspirational to see what he has done for our hockey club this year.”
Tomas Kaberle and Lars Eller also scored for the Canadiens (26-32-10) who won for just the second time in their last nine games to prevent the Oilers from catching them for 28th spot in the NHL.
“You play to win,” Subban said. “As far as the players in the dressing room go, you want to win every game and you want to compete. It’s your job to go out there and try to win every game and that’s what we did.”
Shawn Horcoff, Linus Omark and Taylor Hall responded for the Oilers (26-35-6), who have lost four of their last five outings.
“We were a little undisciplined,” said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. “We could have been a lot smarter tonight. As tough as it was from a fatigue perspective, you have to play smart and had we done that, certainly we had a shot at this game. Montreal played hard, but I think we could have had it had we played a smarter game.”
The Oilers’ top-ranked power play got them on the board first with eight minutes to play in the opening period as Horcoff tipped a point shot from Corey Potter past Canadiens goalie Peter Budaj.
After stopping him in tight earlier in the period, Oilers starter Nikolai Khabibulin came up with another huge arm save on Tomas Plekanec with five minutes to play in the first to keep it 1-0.
The Habs tied it up with just 17 seconds left in the first on a power play of their own as Subban unleashed a bullet from the point that found its way to the back of the net.
Montreal went up 2-1 two minutes into the second period as Scott Gomez swung around the back of the net and put a shot on net with Pacioretty swooping in to score on the rebound.
The Oilers tied it back up five minutes later after a giveaway in the Montreal zone led to Omark taking a long shot on net that clipped a Canadiens defender and deflected in. It was the first goal of the season for the recent AHL call-up.
It looked like the Canadiens had gone up 3-2 with four minutes to play in the second period when Rene Bourque poked at a puck that Khabibulin had wedged between his skate and the post that was called a goal by the ref. The call was reversed upon a video review.
The Habs regained the lead three minutes into the third period on the power play as Kaberle picked up a rebound at the side of the net and lifted it over the Oilers goalie for his third of the season.
Jut two minutes later it was 4-2 Montreal as Eller threw a puck out from behind the net and it caromed off of Khabibulin and into the net.
Edmonton got back to within a goal with seven minutes to play as Hall showed some patience to outwait a defender before snapping home his 24th of the season and 50th point.
There was a mad scramble in the final minute in the Montreal end with the puck actually resting on the nape of Budaj’s neck at one point before being cleared as Pacioretty scored his 30th into an empty net with 17 seconds left to secure the win.
Both teams return to action on Saturday as the Canadiens play the third game of a four-game road trip in Vancouver while the Oilers travel to Colorado.
NOTES: It was the second and final meeting of the season between the teams. Edmonton won 3-1 in Montreal in November. … The Canadiens had lost four consecutive games and eight of nine in Edmonton. They were 0-9 record overall in games in Alberta since the lockout. … Edmonton’s only home win over Montreal in nine games was Nov. 22, 2003, outdoors at Commonwealth Stadium. … Montreal D Andrei Markov has been cleared for contact but is still out. Gomez returned after missing two games because of injury. … Montreal lost C David Desharnais to an undisclosed lower body injury. … Oilers LW Ben Eager sat out because of the flu.