Just when it looked like Montreal’s scoring woes would continue, the Canadiens got goals from two slumping players to come from behind and extend their winning streak to four games.
Paul Byron and Brendan Gallagher broke personal scoring slumps with timely third-period goals as the Canadiens defeated the visiting Nashville Predators 2-1 on Thursday.
Gallagher tied the game midway through the third period and Byron scored the winner with nine seconds left to play as the Habs spoiled P.K. Subban’s first game against Montreal since being traded last summer.
“It’s a good feeling,” said Gallagher, who had not scored in 11 games. “Everyone knows I haven’t scored many goals this year. There’s definitely a bit of relief. I’m aware I need to produce more and score more goals.”
Montreal (36-21-8) netted just 21 goals in 13 games in February and it looked like that trend would carry through into March.
After two scoreless periods for the home side, Gallagher got the equalizer at 10:55 of the third when his wraparound shot deflected off defenceman Matt Irwin’s skate and through Pekka Rinne’s five-hole.
Then with time winding down in the game, Byron poked the puck away from Irwin in the neutral zone and chased it down the length of the ice on a breakaway. Rinne got his body on Byron’s shot but the puck trickled past him — the winger’s first goal in 14 games.
“I’ve been doing some really good things lately, and sometimes the puck just doesn’t bounce your way,” said Byron. “And you have to try not to stay frustrated and deviate from your game.”
Carey Price made 24 saves for his 28th win of the season.
Ryan Ellis scored the lone goal for the Predators (32-23-9) before leaving the game with a lower-body injury. Rinne stopped 24 of 26 shots in defeat.
The loss is Nashville’s first in regulation time in Montreal since Jan. 15, 2009 as Peter Laviolette’s men saw their four-game winning streak snapped.
The Preds were dealt a major blow in the second when Ellis limped off the ice with a right leg injury and did not return. The defenceman was hurt battling for a loose puck with Montreal’s Alexander Radulov on what appeared to be a harmless play.
The Canadiens paid tribute to Subban with a video montage before puck drop. A teary-eyed Subban acknowledged the crowd during a lengthy standing ovation.
The former Habs defenceman only needed a few shifts to get on the score sheet against his former team. With the Predators playing with the man advantage, Subban passed the puck to Ellis, who fired a slap shot from the point past Price to make it 1-0 for the visitors at 18:25 of the first.
“We sat back a bit in the second,” said defenceman Mattias Ekholm. “In the third it was an even hockey game. They buried the one chance but even after that I thought we responded well. We got down into their end and had our chances and then it was a tough break.”
Montreal is now 5-2-0 under new coach Claude Julien.
“We talked about getting some secondary scoring and we got some tonight,” said Julien. “Secondary scoring won us the game. When different people go out and give you those goals, that just makes us that much stronger.”
Winger Dwight King, acquired by Montreal at the trade deadline, made his Canadiens debut. King, a two-time Stanley Cup winner with Los Angeles, played on the fourth line with Michael McCarron and Torrey Mitchell. He finished with five hits in 10:37.
New additions Andreas Martinsen, Steve Ott and Brandon Davidson were healthy scratches.
Notes: The Canadiens beat the Predators 2-1 in overtime in Nashville on Jan. 3. Subban missed that game with a back injury.