MONTREAL – In the middle of his second scoring drought of the season, Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty only needed a game against the team that helped him cure his last slump.
Pacioretty scored twice to help the Canadiens to a 4-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night. The goals, one for insurance and one into an empty net, snapped a goalless stretch that had seen the 24-year-old winger score just once in his previous 12 games.
“Obviously things weren’t going in for me. It takes a bounce and that’s how it goes,” said Pacioretty, who opened the season with no goals in his first 10 games before a fluke score against the Hurricanes on Feb. 18. “Different people step up every night for this team and I guess tonight was my chance.”
Pacioretty got his first of the night at 10:58 of the third period when he slipped the puck through an opening to Hurricanes’ goaltender Justin Peter’s left side.
“I knew once I got that bounce I’d feel good so hopefully I can keep it going,” he said.
The penalty kill, the most notable blemish in the Canadiens’ impressive season to date, ranking 18th heading into the game and 25th on home ice, came up strong against the Hurricanes. Montreal was perfect on all five Carolina opportunities and allowed just two shots on goal.
The Canadiens have now killed 21 of their last 23 penalties.
“We approached the group of guys that kill penalties about 10 days ago. That was an aspect of our game that we were not pleased with,” Therrien said. “We had a good meeting. Guys know their responsibilities and right now they’re doing a good job. They’re battling hard, getting in the shooting lanes, paying attention to detail. It makes a big difference.”
With the win, the Habs (23-7-5) restored their three-point lead over the idle Boston Bruins. Boston now holds a game in hand and hosts Ottawa on Tuesday night.
The Hurricanes, meanwhile, lost ground in the race for the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference following wins by the eighth-place New York Rangers and ninth-seeded New York Islanders. Those teams are tied at 37 points, three points ahead of Carolina.
If there was good news for the visitors, however, it was that the Rangers beat the Southeast Division-leading Winnipeg Jets, who sit four points up.
Carolina (16-16-2), which has dropped eight of its last nine, holds three games in hand on the Jets.
“We haven’t consistently found our game,” said centre Jordan Staal, who scored his team’s lone goal. “We’ve had some spurts and played a really solid game in Winnipeg (on Saturday). Again, even tonight, we had some spurts here and there but it’s just not a consistent game that we’re playing.”
Carey Price, appearing in his 300th NHL game, made 18 saves for the win. It was the 142nd of his career, ranking him eighth on the Canadiens’ all-time goaltending wins list.
“Carey made some key saves. We only allowed 19 shots but there were some quality scoring chances and Carey was really good again tonight,” Therrien said.
After the Canadiens were unable to convert on a couple of quality chances in the opening minutes of the first period, the Hurricanes took advantage to break the ice on a delayed penalty call against Montreal.
Patrick Dwyer broke in, impeded by defenceman Alexei Emelin. Price made the save but the rebound came out to Staal, who scored his 11th of the season at 3:38.
“We came ready, had a good first 10 minutes, scored the first goal and then they pushed back pretty hard and had us on our heels for a little while,” Hurricanes captain Eric Staal said. “Down 2-1 in the third we had some good chances early, hit the post on Jiri (Tlusty’s shot) and then Jussi (Jokinen) right in the slot on the power play.
“It was a tight game and not a lot of space out there. They were able to get that third one and it was difficult to come back from that.”
The home side took the lead on a goal that featured two firsts for Canadiens players. Rookie defenceman Nathan Beaulieu found Halpern in the slot for the veteran’s first goal of the season while Beaulieu picked up his first NHL point with the assist.
Andrei Markov evened up the score on the power play at 15:03 with a slapshot from the right point. P.K. Subban, fresh off being named the NHL’s second star of the month for March, added an assist on the play, tying him with Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang and Minnesota’s Ryan Suter for the league lead in points by a defenceman.
Habs winger Colby Armstrong had to be helped off the ice early in the third after a hard collision with Dwyer that left him favouring what appeared to be his right leg. He did not return.
Peters stopped 25 shots in his second career loss to Montreal.
Notes: The Canadiens have won all 10 games they’ve played against the Southeast Division so far this season…The win was Montreal’s second straight series sweep after doing the same against the Rangers on Saturday…The Canadiens scratched forward Mike Blunden and defencemen Tomas Kaberle and Yannick Weber…The Hurricanes scratched forward Adam Hall and Tuomo Ruutu (injured).