When your season is in a tailspin, you tend to grab hold of the lighter moments wherever and whenever you find them.
In Erik Cole’s case it happened to be an outstretched right hand, that of referee Greg Kimmerly.
After Cole swooped down the right side and batted a rebound past hulking Ottawa Senators goalie Ben Bishop to open the score for his Montreal Canadiens, he sailed around the back of the net, to where Kimmerly was gesturing at the puck in the goal - and high-fived him.
“He was the only guy there to celebrate with,” Cole said after the game, tongue firmly in cheek. “His hand was there, so I slapped it. But he took it away, kind of.”
It’s not known whether Cole will get a call from the league office for abuse of an official.
Although teammate Carey Price will surely volunteer as a character witness.
“You can’t fine a guy for that, it’s pure comedy,” he said. “It’s even better when it’s an old-school guy like [Cole]that does it.”
In any event, the smiles on the Montreal bench were short-lived as the Senators evened matters just 26 seconds later.
But when all was said and done, the Habs walked off with a 3-2 shootout victory - Montreal goalie Carey Price had a rare dominant showing in the tie-breaker.
First he poke-checked Milan Michalek, then stopped Jason Spezza, and finally repelled Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson, who had been a perfect five-for-five in extras this season.
“I didn’t know that, if he had told me, he probably would have scored,” said Price, who stopped 35 of 37 shots in regulation and overtime.
The Habs have lost eight shootouts this year, tied for most in the league, but centre David Desharnais managed to slide a puck through Bishop’s legs to ice the win - he was the only player to score in the shootout.
"The funny thing is we haven't really been practising [shootouts]lately," Price said. "I guess it's just confidence."
As this most dispiriting of seasons winds down, the Habs can at least claim to have put one over on their Highway 417 rivals in a game of minor significance.
A victory would have seen the Senators pull even with the idle Boston Bruins atop the Northeast division - a position that comes with a home seeding in the first round of the playoffs.
Not that it’s especially galling to have fallen short.
“Now we have 11 games left, [Boston]have games in hand, we’ll play to 82 and see where we’re at,” said coach Paul MacLean.
This was something of a strange evening.
First, the Canadiens’ Aaron Palushaj injured himself in warm-up when a shot ricocheted off the post and hit him in the face - he played with a full cage.
Teammate Tomas Plekanec missed the warm-up altogether because of a family emergency, and defenceman Alexei Emelin took the skate-around, but didn’t dress for the game because of an upper-body injury.
During the game, the string of freakish injuries caught up with Andrei Markov, who was playing his first game on home ice since blowing out his right knee on Nov. 13, 2010.
With his team on the power play, Markov tracked back in his own end and took a Jim O’Brien clear-in square in the face - he kicked his helmet in frustration (and did so with his twice-rebuilt leg) as he left the ice.
“I used to be a soccer player,” he said dryly afterward.
If it was an odd night, it was also an ornery one.
And for once the chief irritant wasn’t Habs defenceman P.K. Subban.
The villain’s mantle on this night was passed on to Ottawa’s superb young blueliner Erik Karlsson.
The 21-year-old Swede was involved in all aspects of the game, scoring a third-period goal to erase a 2-1 Montreal lead.
He also Spidermanned the diminutive Desharnais against the boards at one point, pinning him so that his hands and feet were off the ice.
Karlsson, the runaway leader in points among NHL defencemen, was driving the Habs to distraction all night - mild-mannered centre Lars Eller grappled with Karlsson in the third period, the two continued jawing at each other in the penalty box.
But for the most part, this game was a battle of the goaltenders.
The 6-foot-7 Bishop made several superb saves in this one, none better than a toe stop on Desharnais as he and Max Pacioretty barrelled in on a two-on-one in the early going.
The super-sized Ottawa netminder remains unbeaten in regulation in his four starts for the team.
The Habs, who rather inconceivably given the atmosphere at the Bell Centre, are the worst home team in the NHL, had taken a 2-1 lead. Desharnais scored just 24 seconds into the third period, tipping a P.K. Subban point shot in. It was his 16th of the season and his second goal in as many games.
But Karlsson knotted proceedings midway through the third with a nifty hesitation move before wristing a shot from the top of the right circle that went through Ryan White's legs and handcuffed Price. It was Karlsson's 19th of the year.
Montreal opened the scoring just before the 14-minute mark of the first period when little-used forward Petteri Nokelainen spotted Cole streaking down the right side.
Cole batted the rebound of his initial shot past a static Ben Bishop.
But the Senators haven’t been cowed by falling behind on the scoreboard this season, and it took only 26 seconds for them to respond.
With the Habs scrambling around in their own end, Spezza held on to the puck beside the net, sliding a nice past that Michalek only partly connected with.
As Josh Gorges, Pacioretty and Price tumbled to the ice seemingly in unison as the puck bounced around in the crease, Colin Greening arrived to tuck it into the net against the flow of play.
The second period was a stalemate thanks to some sterling work from Price (who stoned Alfredsson) and Bishop (who did likewise to Rene Bourque on the doorstep) - it was also a bit of a dog’s breakfast thanks to some iffy penalty calls.
First Karlsson drew the ire of the Canadiens for falling down a little too easily after a chop on the top of the leg from Cole - Gorges was first into the scrum that followed the call and yelled angrily at Karlsson.
Then, on the ensuing power play, Price sold a goalie interference penalty on Chris Neil, flopping theatrically when the Sens forward nudged him.
But two can play at that game, and Bishop shortly put Ottawa back on the power play when he tumbled to the ice after a slight bump from Markov.
The Habs defenceman had an eventful night, and was cheered warmly on his first few shifts.
The cheers built to a crescendo when he was sent out to take his turn in the shootout.
Bishop got a glove on his shot, which would have qualified as an anti-climax had Price not done likewise at the other end a few moments later.