MONTREAL – It was an emotional night for Jaroslav Spacek and he let it show in his first game back in Montreal.
Spacek scored and celebrated with an Alex Ovechkin-like leap into the glass in his return to the team he spent two-plus seasons with as the Kirk Muller-led Carolina Hurricanes snapped the Montreal Canadiens’ four-game winning streak with a 5-3 victory on Monday.
“I’m not like Mike Cammalleri, he scores often,” Spacek said of his former Habs teammate who is now with the Calgary Flames. “I don’t, so I have to celebrate a little bit. Especially here; I’m so happy.”
Spacek was traded to the Hurricanes back on Dec. 9 in exchange for defenceman Tomas Kaberle.
It was the first time that Muller, Carolina’s head coach, coached against the Canadiens. Muller played in Montreal for four seasons and was an assistant coach there for five.
Captain Eric Staal scored twice for the Hurricanes (21-25-11), who won for the third time in their last five games and collected at least a point for the fifth straight game (3-0-2). Jiri Tlusty and Jamie McBain had goals as well.
Tomas Plekanec, Erik Cole and David Desharnais replied for the Canadiens (23-25-9), who suffered their first loss to Carolina this season.
“We had a crap start and to come back we showed a lot of energy in that second, and we should have sealed the deal,” said Montreal defenceman Hal Gill. “It’s tough but it’s ups and downs and we have to try to stay on top.
The Canadiens, seemingly left for dead in the playoff race just over a week ago, could have closed the gap on eighth place to five points with a win.
“It’s always a step back when you lose but we know what we have to do to be successful. We just have to stick to it for 60 (minutes),” Gill said.
Cam Ward made 29 saves for his 21st win of the season. Carey Price stopped 30 shots for the Canadiens.
“In the beginning we were losing these types of games by a goal. Now we’re finding ways to get a point, two points,” Muller said. “Our leaders are really leading this team right now. I really like the way we’re playing right now.”
Staal liked seeing his teammate and coach so fired up against their former team.
“They were both pretty pumped, as we all were. That was a big win for us,” Staal said. “Spatcho’s a great team guy. He’s got that personality where he never seems to be in a bad mood. And any time you score against your old team, I’m sure it’s a good feeling and it was for him tonight.”
After Tlusty opened the scoring early in the first period, Spacek put his former teammates in a 2-0 hole in the second when Jeff Skinner found him back-door on a Carolina power play.
“(There were) a lot of races that we lost early on,” Canadiens head coach Randy Cunneyworth said of his team’s start, which saw it get outshot 16-6 in the first period. “We have to win those battles, win the races. They seemed to have a lot of jump and we were a little bit flat.”
Since taking over in mid-December, Cunneyworth has stressed that players who give the effort will be rewarded with the ice time. Against Carolina, winger Andrei Kostitsyn saw just 4:20 of action—including just one shift in the third period—while centre Scott Gomez finished the night with 7:49, both team lows.
“At certain times we were looking at the matchups and trying to get certain people out there. It becomes a little bit of that but also we need some bigger efforts on occasion. Turnovers become paramount,” said Cunneyworth.
Plekanec started the Canadiens’ comeback at 11:53 of the second when he took advantage of a 2-on-1 with Rene Bourque to put a wristshot past Ward. It was the centre’s 10th career goal and 30th career point against the Hurricanes in 26 games played.
Cole tied it 2-2 on the power play at 15:57 when he moved in from the boards to the slot for his first goal against his former team.
Desharnais gave the Canadiens their first lead of the night when he took advantage of a sprawled Ward and tucked the puck in to the net late in the period.
“The second period was one of the best periods I’ve seen us play at home. Then we go out and throw it all away,” said a frustrated Lars Eller. “It was like we were a different team in each of the three periods. It was weird. Not good enough.”
Carolina tied it early in the third when Staal beat out Kaberle and squeaked one through Price’s pads shorthanded.
The Hurricanes regained the lead at 8:50 of the third when McBain picked up a rebound in the slot for Carolina’s second power-play goal of the night.
Notes: The Canadiens scratched Ryan White and Ian Schultz, called up from AHL Hamilton on Sunday. Schultz was returned to Hamilton following the game.…Winger Travis Moen missed a second straight game for Montreal with an upper body injury.…Defenceman Derek Joslin was scratched for Carolina.…Hurricanes winger Tuomo Ruutu was injured in the first period and did not return.