VANCOUVER — When the last seconds finally ticked off the clock, massive defenceman Hal Gill wrapped Carey Price in a rib-bruising bear hug while Paul Mara grabbed a souvenir for the Montreal Canadiens’ goaltender.
“I really wanted that puck,” Price said in a soft voice while facing a crowd of reporters in the Montreal locker-room. “That was the only one I wanted all year.”
The Canadiens put the Vancouver Canucks on their heels with a pair of goals 67 seconds apart in the first period Tuesday, but it was Price who was the difference in Montreal’s 3-2 win.
Hockey is a team game, but it was a very personal victory for Price, who was raised in Anahim Lake, B.C. It helped ease the memory of his first start in Vancouver, when allowed seven goals on 32 shots in a 7-1 loss to the Canucks back on Oct. 7, 2009.
“It was a big game for me,” said Price, who made 37 saves Tuesday. “My guys knew that coming in.
“I remember last year. It really meant a lot to be coming in here. I think everyone in this locker-room realized that and really battled for me.”
David Desharnais and Brian Gionta put Montreal ahead early and Andrei Kostitsyn scored the winner in the second period as Montreal ended a three-game losing skid.
Scott Gomez earned his 500th assist, becoming the 16th American to reach that mark.
Henrik Sedin and Mikael Samuelsson scored power-play goals for Vancouver.
After finding themselves down early, the Canucks peppered Price with shots.
He was forced to make big stops off Samuelsson, Alex Burrows and Sami Salo in the third when the swarming Canucks were pressing for the tie. Vancouver outshot Montreal 27-9 over the last two periods.
“(Price) made some big saves,” said Burrows. “I thought we did a pretty good job of coming back and firing a lot of shots, but the damage was already done.”
Price praised his defence for letting him have a clear view all night.
“My guys did a really good job of clearing guys in front of me and clearing pucks and rebounds,” he said. “(The Canucks) do an excellent job of cycling the puck down low, creating opportunities from that. Our guys did a really good job of containing that.”
Tuesday marked second time this season Price has beaten the Canucks. He made 35 saves when the Canadiens beat Vancouver 2-0 in Montreal back in November.
“It’s always nice to come home,” said Price, whose record now stands at 28-20-6. “It was really sweet to be able to go out there and wave to all my family and friends.”
There were plenty of Montreal jerseys in the sellout crowd of 18,860 at Rogers Arena, with several loud chants of “Go Habs Go” throughout the night. Among those in attendance was Hollywood star Tom Cruise, in town shooting the next instalment of the “Mission: Impossible” series.
The win helped ease the frustration the Canadiens felt after losing the first two games of their Western road trip in Alberta. The Habs lost in Edmonton and Calgary by a combined score of 8-1.
“You go on the road and you want to get something out of it,” said Gill. “We had some lacklustre performances in the first two games.
“It was nice to get this one.”
The Canadiens, who came into the game with just one win in their previous seven starts, improved to 32-22-7 for 71 points. The victory was Montreal’s first in eight games in Vancouver.
The Canucks dropped to 38-14-9 but remain first overall in the NHL with 85 points, one more than Philadelphia
League scoring leader Daniel Sedin collected an assist for Vancouver. That gives him 78 points on the season (32 goals, 46 assists), three more than Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos. Henrik Sedin’s goal gives him 73 points.
Desharnais opened the scoring at 6:07. The play started with a pretty pass through the neutral zone from Benoit Pouliot. Desharnais used his speed to blow past defenceman Chris Tanev, then slide the puck between the legs of Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo.
Montreal didn’t give Vancouver much time to regroup. Gionta picked up the rebound of a P.K. Subban shot from the point and fired it past Luongo at 7:14.
That forced Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault to call a timeout to settle his troops down.
“Going down 2-0 isn’t something we want to do,” Canucks forward Ryan Kesler said. “After that 10 minutes I thought we dominated the game but you’ve got to give it to their goalie. He stood on his head and made the saves when he needed to.”
A mistake by Price resulted in the Canucks making it 2-1 early in the second. The Montreal goaltender was called for delay of game after shooting the puck over the glass.
Henrik Sedin scored on the power play just 26 seconds later, blasting a shot that Price had trouble seeing with Kesler acting as a screen in front of the net.
Kostitsyn ended a 12-game scoring drought when he beat Luongo with a sharp-angle shot midway through the second.
Samuelsson made it 3-2 at 1:06 of the third, beating Price with a shot from the blue-line.
Notes: The Canucks had two defencemen return to their lineup. Dan Hamhuis, who missed five games with a concussion, and Keith Ballard, out six with a knee injury, both played. … Luongo, who finished with 22 saves, wore a new mask for the game. It featured Vancouver’s stick-in-the-rink logo to recognize the team’s 40th anniversary. … Montreal had outshot Vancouver 14-1 midway through the first. …The Canucks sent defenceman Yann Sauve back to the AHL’s Manitoba Moose. …The Canucks’ homestand continues with games against St. Louis on Thursday, Columbus on March 1 and Nashville on March 3.