The pregame hype was all about Jamie vs. Jordie, but the real story ended up being Kari vs. Carey.
While the Benn brothers were taking media call after media call, Al Montoya was turning up injured at the morning skate. That meant Carey Price, probably the single best netminder in the world, would start against the Dallas Stars. If he had not, the Montreal Canadiens may have had a very different game.
Okay, but it really did look as if Kari Lehtonen was going to win a goalie duel with Jesus Price Superstar for those first two periods, didn’t it?
Let’s take a look.
Two minutes into this period, Curtis McKenzie scored for the very first time in Montreal, off his own rebound from a shot blocked by Jordie Benn. It was Mack-Z’s fourth point in his last five games, and you might be forgiven for thinking it would all be downhill from here.
Instead, the Stars got six shots on goal in the first five minutes, including a flip-in by Esa Lindell that Adam Cracknell rang loudly off the post on Price’s blocker side.
The Habs did get their chances and they came thick and fast, including an early wrister by Artturi Lehkonen that Lehtonen smothered. They would double the Stars’ SoG 14-7, including a late-period barrage by Max Pacioretty, but no one was able to crack Kari this frame – due in part to some timely defense helping to keep the crease tidy.
Alexei Emelin rang Jamie Benn’s bell during this period, which became a storyline near the end, but it serves as a gentle reminder that the Baby Benn does take numbers. More later.
The Stars clearly dominated the speedy first half; as the game slowed down, it started coming to the Canadiens. Lehtonen was key to protecting the lead as the clock ran down.
This was one of those “you had to be there” periods, in that it was more interesting to watch than to describe. The Canadiens decided to come out playing Stars-style hockey, and their speed led to several prime chances, but both Price and Lehtonen were keeping everything out.
Stephen Johns dropped the gloves with Nathan Beaulieu after Beaulieu took issue with Johns’ hit on Dwight King. Their offsetting fighting majors were the first penalties of the game.
Did a fight rally a team this time? Pacioretty finally found a way past Lehtonen with the help of a wicked backhand (and some chaos in front of the net) on the 27th Montreal shot of the game, moments after Johns and Beaulieu were shown to their time-outs, so you make the call.
Montreal took their first lead of the night about three and a half minutes into this period, as Brendan Gallagher got a wrist shot through on what started as a semi-breakaway and ended up as a screen. The Stars would get a big handful of good scoring chances throughout the period, but Price continued to persevere.
The Stars finally got the first power play of the game after Tomas Plekanec was called down for holding on Ales Hemsky. Unfortunately, the magic wore off somewhere between Prudential Center and Centre Bell, and they got only one shot off on the man advantage.
As the 14th minute began, Lehkonen shot a knuckling one-timer that put a rolling puck past his fellow Finn. An assist gave Andrei Markov a tie for second with Guy Lapointe for most points by a defenseman in franchise history, and the goal gave the Habs breathing room as the game ticked down.
Alexander Radulov got the final tally of the game, outracing Johns to score on a breakaway. Not long after, The Captain decided it was time to have a little meeting with Emelin about his checking habits, and the long and short of it was Jamie went off for slashing with 1:18 left on the clock, when it wouldn’t matter, because he’s considerate like that.
Pacioretty left the ice early in the period after contact with Dan Hamhuis resulted into a shoulder-first fall into the boards. And Jordie Benn and Jamie Benn finally shared the ice during the game – for about four seconds, during a line change.
Ultimately, the Stars couldn’t make good on their chances and got caught out in their own end a few times too many. They got beaten by a better team. It’s the sort of thing that happens to pretty much everybody over the course of a season. If they hadn’t dropped so many where they were the better team, this conversation might be a little different, too.
The road trip continues Thursday in Beantown against the Boston Bruins. See you around.