More than two decades have passed since the Montreal Canadiens last won the Stanley Cup, 23 years since they staged a championship parade along what was called “the usual route” because it had become so familiar to so many fans.
The Canadiens have had some good teams since then and they appeared to have a very good team last season until goaltender Carey Price suffered a knee injury that cut his season short and destroyed their playoff hopes. Price is fit and sharp now, and the Canadiens have become a bigger and more physical team, key reasons they brought the NHL’s top record to Anaheim on Tuesday.
All of which made the Ducks’ 2-1 victory stand out as more than a random weeknight game in November. The Ducks withstood an early bombardment, gradually found their footing, and got a 39-save performance from John Gibson to win a game they considered something of a measuring stick of where they stand at this point in the season.
“We know it’s a big game and it’s a good test. They’re the best team in the league and everybody wants to see how they stack up against the best,” Gibson said after matching his career-high save total.
How did they stack up? “I think we played well,” he said. “There were spurts where they dominated and there were spurts where we had a lot of good possession and played how we wanted. I thought it was a good game.”
It wasn’t 60 minutes of good for the Ducks. Montreal (16-5-2) came out flying, and the Ducks were flustered. “Before we even were five minutes into the game they had 10 shots and we had nothing. They had their legs and were ready right from the start,” defenseman Cam Fowler said. “Then we started to get into it.”
Once they were in, they were all in, and they did an admirable job against a team that still leads the NHL with 34 points. “It’s early in the season, but they’re at the top of the league right now for a reason. It’s one of those games that’s not hard to get up for,” Fowler said. “I thought we did a good job. We’ll take the two points. Maybe gave up a little too many shots, but I thought for the most part we kept them to the outside and limited their speed. Some good, some bad, but we’ll definitely take the win.”
A power-play goal in the first period by Rickard Rakell and Fowler’s deflected goal in the second period were enough to support Gibson, who lost his shutout to Andrew Shaw’s goal with two minutes left in the third period and Montreal playing with an extra skater in place of Price. Shaw got a 10-minute misconduct after he was given a hooking penalty with 28 seconds left in the third period and he reacted by breaking his stick over his knee and tipping over the stick rack as he stomped to the locker room.
“Gibby saved us a lot of times today,” Rakell said after taking the team lead with nine goals despite missing the first nine games. “If he didn’t play this good, it might not have been the same result.”
Rakell’s goal began as a wraparound attempt that put the puck in the slot. Ryan Kesler took a whack at it but couldn’t score, leaving a rebound for Rakell to tap inside the left post. Fowler padded the lead at 11:56 of the second period with a blast from the left circle, deftly set up by Jakob Silfverberg and Kesler.
Price’s acrobatics prevented the Ducks from extending that margin, with his most spectacular save coming in the final seconds of the middle period on a sprawling stop of a shot by defenseman Sami Vatanen. Earlier in the period, Price made an exceptional stop on a point-blank shot by Corey Perry, who has gone 15 games without a goal.
Shaw made it close later, but Gibson and the Ducks were able to hang on. “We had nothing to lose, really,” Rakell said. “We know they had played really well. All we wanted to do was match their intensity.”
And they did. And did the Canadiens one goal better. “Yes,” Rakell said, “that’s what we wanted.”