Max Pacioretty has said in the past that he plays better while injured - but who knew it was actually true?
A mere 48 hours after suffering a freak wrist injury in a puck battle with Florida’s Mike Weaver - it was diagnosed as a ligament tear - the 22-year-old Montreal Canadiens winger was back in the lineup.
And it’s not like he was just filling a spot on the bench.
The power forward has emerged as the Canadiens’ most effective player this season, picking up where he left off before his unfortunate coming-together with Zdeno Chara last March.
And in a game the Habs had to have - the latest in a series of such games, actually - the Connecticut native came up with arguably his best game of the season, scoring two and setting up a third in a 5-1 pasting of the Philadelphia Flyers, one of Montreal’s bugaboo teams.
Perhaps he should add ‘slam hand in car door’ to his pre-game routine.
“I always play a little better when I know that I have to use my legs a little bit more ... I couldn’t be cute with the puck because of my circumstances,” he said, referring to the damaged wrist.
Pacioretty also allowed Wednesday’s win was a confidence boost on the heels of his first game in Boston - the Habs play there Thursday - since Chara rode him into a stanchion at the Bell Centre, giving him a concussion and a broken neck.
No matter how you cut it, this was a cathartic game from the Habs, who finally got a few bounces en route to snapping a six-game slide and helping 24-year-old goalie Carey Price earn his 100th career win (he is the seventh-youngest goalie to reach that mark in NHL history).
“Hopefully the next 100 won’t take as long,” said Price, who won his first game after ditching the special pink-trimmed goalie equipment he had worn in his four previous games, all losses.
After the game, he admitted with a smile that he had been asked to switch his pads: “I don’t want to say who, but it came from pretty high up ... let’s just say it was an executive decision from the team.”
You might also call this victory a tip of the hat to departed assistant coach Perry Pearn, who was dismissed a couple of hours before the game.
If the move was intended to light a fire under the team - general manager Pierre Gauthier insists it was not - it worked.
There are those who will paint the decision as a desperate move, and they may not be wrong - the genial Pearn seems an odd choice for a fall guy - but the net effect is that the Habs took down a conference powerhouse and looked good doing it for most of the game.
It will take more than this to quiet the discomfiture among Martin and Gauthier critics, and to pinch a line from Cracker front-man Dave Lowery, it’s too early to tell whether the result is actually a light at the end of the tunnel for the Habs or a train.
“It feels good, but it’s one game, so we can’t get too excited,” cautioned centre David Desharnais. “We have a lot of work to do.”
Philadelphia owned the early part of the game and opened the scoring on a gorgeous play that saw Scott Hartnell grab a loose puck amid Montreal defensive confusion, fight off a check to fling the puck to the point where Matt Carle’s diagonal pass found Jaromir Jagr alone at the side of the net.
The finish was academic.
From that point, Philly turned the screws, rattling three pucks off Price’s posts - including twice in the same power play - and generally toying with their over-matched opponents.
Had the teams met last week, odds are at least a couple of the close calls would have found their way into the net.
Then, with the Habs reeling and their fans growing more restless, Philly defenceman Andreas Lilja was whistled for an interference penalty on Montreal’s Erik Cole deep in Flyer territory with 1:20 to play in the first.
And with three ticks on the clock, the Habs suddenly had life.
Cole, a force all evening, scrambled a Flyer clearing attempt, and Desharnais flipped a clever pass to defenceman Yannick Weber, who rifled a clapper past Ilya Bryzgalov’s trapper.
It was Weber’s best moment in a game where he was Montreal’s steadiest defender.
The Habs started the second period with a hunger rarely seen in a season that has seen them win just once.
As in the first, they survived a few scares early - Wayne Simmonds dinked a shot off the inside of the post with Price thoroughly beaten - before grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck.
Price has had some uneven outings this season, but he made a simply stunning right pad save on Claude Giroux, and as his team swept down to the other end after gathering the resulting rebound, watched as Andrei Kostitsyn bundled home his third of the year off the top of his skate (the goal stood after a video review).
Just 2:12 later, the Habs had an unimaginable 3-1 lead on a legit Stanley Cup contender, with Pacioretty snagging the rebound of a P.K. Subban drive and tucking it past Bryzgalov in one smooth motion.
The teams opened the third four-on-four, and Price again asserted himself, thwarting James Van Riemsdyk on a breakaway.
The Habs then turned up the pressure in the Philly end, with Cole and Pacioretty drawing highlight-reel saves out of Bryzgalov.
But there was an inevitability about Pacioretty’s second goal of the night, which came after some nice work along the boards by Josh Gorges.
The puck came to Tomas Plekanec at the goalmouth, and his rebound was stuffed past Bryzgalov by the Habs’ best player this season.
With the game winding down to its dying embers, the line of Cole, Desharnais and Mike Cammalleri (Montreal’s most dangerous on the night) buzzed in the Philadelphia end for nearly a minute.
With Cole dominating physically behind the net, the Flyers couldn’t clear, and then Desharnais sent a nifty pass out from behind the net that Cammalleri batted past Bryzgalov for his third of the season.
Five minutes later, Subban was twirling around in his own end playing keep-away, and he flipped the puck to Price as a memento as time ran out.
The Habs poured over the boards and Price and Subban revived the triple-low-five victory celebration from last season as the fans danced in the Bell Centre aisles for the first time this season.
Imagine how happy they'll be if the influential Andrei Markov, who has been lost to the team for almost a year and has been rehabbing his repaired knee in Florida, can return to action in the next couple of weeks?
He's due back on the ice this weekend, so there may be more cheering ahead.