MONTREAL - It was a night to remember for the old warrior Chris Chelios.
The sold-out Bell Centre crowd of 21,273 gave the former Canadien a long ovation after his Detroit Red Wings outclassed Montreal 4-1 for their fourth straight NHL victory on Tuesday night. The same crowd had spent much of the night booing the home side, but saved their warmth for what may be the 45-year-old defenceman's last visit to the city where he began his career in 1984-85.
"I can't be more thankful to the fans," said Chelios. "I broke into the league here and have nothing but great memories.
"My family, my boys, are watching this and we'll cherish this for sure. My first was born here. This is a perfect way to end it, if this is the end here."
Before the game, Chelios had been called out to take part in a ceremony celebrating the 81 years of competition between the two so-called Original Six clubs, flanked by greats from both teams.
But this was no classic like their meetings in the 1950s, as the first-place overall Red Wings dazzled the struggling Canadiens with their skating, passing and playmaking and outshot them 34-16.
Pavel Datsyuk, now with seven goals in his last five games, scored a pair of unassisted goals, while Niklas Kronvall and Henrik Zetterberg added singles for 19-6-2 Detroit.
Chris Higgins had the lone goal for Montreal, 13-10-4, which has one win in its last six games.
"We're trying to rebuild our confidence here," said Canadiens coach and Chelios's former teammate Guy Carbonneau. "The first 15 games, we played as a team, we made the plays when they were there, our passes were crisp, we looked like a fast team.
"Now, the confidence isn't there and there's a lot of hesitation in our game."
The Canadiens tried hard early, but any hope of keeping up with the Red Wings vanished when Datsyuk picked off Steve Begin's clearing attempt and beat rookie goaltender Carey Price from the slot at 16:40 of the first period.
Higgins got it back 4:15 into the second frame when he picked up Saku Koivu's pass off Brian Rafalski's skate and lifted one over Dominik Hasek, who made his first start in goal in five games.
But an ill-advised drop pass by defenceman-turned-forward Mark Streit was converted into Datsyuk's second of the game on a rush down the right side capped by a bullet shot to the top corner at 11:08.
"Both of them, I was in a dangerous area and I just shot it," said Datsyuk, who also assisted on Zetterberg's goal. "We won and that's better for us - it doesn't matter who scored."
Kronvall made it 3-1 with a point shot that went off a stick and under the crossbar through heavy traffic at 13:45.
In the third, Koivu squared off with Mikael Samuelsson, but before it could go farther, Mathieu Dandenault flew in and jumped the Detroit forward, knocking him to the ice and setting off a brief melee.
Dandenault was ejected for being third man in and Zetterberg scored his 18th on the resulting power play on a shot to the top corner from the slot.
"Once we settled down in the first period, I though we played really well offensively," said Detroit captain Niklas Lidstrom, who had 28:20 of ice time on defence. "We tried to sustain some pressure in their end and we were able to do that.
"We got some timely goals as well."
In the first period, Begin was temporarily stunned from a head-first check into the boards by Andreas Lilja, but was able to return after a few minutes. The two fought in the final minute of the third.
Chelios won a Stanley Cup in Montreal in 1986, and his 1991 trade to Chicago, along with a draft pick, for an aging Denis Savard is widely considered among the worst in Canadiens history.
It was Detroit's first visit to Montreal since 2003, when the Canadiens won 2-1.
Notes - Before the game, the rivalry between Detroit and Montreal was celebrated. Ex-Wings Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Marcel Pronovost and Marcel Dionne joined former Habs Jean Beliveau, Dickie Moore, Claude Lemieux and Stephane Richer and all got big ovations in an on-ice ceremony. . . Kirk Maltby sat out third straight game... Montreal's Tom Kostopoulos was a healthy scratch for a second game, while Begin was back after sitting out one game.