Carey Price's previous trip to Vancouver ended with a sore hand. This time the Montreal Canadiens' goalie left with a souvenir puck.
Playing in front of at least 50 family members and friends, the B.C. native made 12 of his 37 saves in the third period, and the Canadiens snapped a decade-long losing streak in Vancouver with a 3-2 win over the Canucks on Tuesday night.
It was a decided improvement over Price's last trip to his home province early last season, which ended with him getting pulled after giving up seven goals. He then punched a hole in the wall of the visiting locker room.
The year before that, with even more supporters in attendance, Price sat out behind Jaroslav Halak before getting a token appearance in the third period of another one-sided loss.
"I put a lot of mental preparation into this one," Price said. "I remember last year and not getting the opportunity to play before that and it really meant a lot to me coming in here. I think everyone in this locker room realized that and really battled for me."
Canadiens defenceman Paul Mara made sure to grab the puck after the final buzzer and present it to Price after he was mobbed by his teammates.
A blue return
The Canucks had two of their injured defencemen return to the lineup Tuesday night.
Dan Hamhuis, who missed five games with a concussion, and Keith Ballard, out six contests with a knee injury, both saw ice time near their usual levels.
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said he thought both played well despite a lack of practice time.
"I thought both of them, considering the short amount of time that they were with the team, I thought they were fine," Vigneault said.
While both players skated on their own during their rehabilitation, Hamhuis had two practices and Ballard only one.
"I felt good," said Hamhuis, who was on the ice for Montreal's second goal. "I felt better as the game went on, felt comfortable.
"There were a few situations getting bumped and falling down didn't seem to bother me at all."
Hamhuis logged 19 minutes 12 seconds of ice time while Ballard had 16:48.
The Canucks are still missing defencemen Alex Edler (back), Kevin Bieksa (broken foot) and Andrew Alberts (broken wrist).
Rookie Lee Sweatt, called up from AHL Manitoba to fill in, suffered a foot injury after three appearances on the Vancouver blue-line. He has missed the last eight games.
"I really wanted that puck. That was the only one I've wanted all year," Price said. "I've watched the Canucks my whole life being from B.C., and getting an opportunity to play against them and actually win here is pretty special."
David Desharnais and Brian Gionta scored 67 seconds apart early in the first period. Andrei Kostitsyn scored the winning goal against the flow of play midway through the second, ending a 12-game drought despite being demoted to the fourth line. And Price made a handful of game-saving stops in the third as Montreal won in Western Canada for the first time in three years, and the fifth time in 30 visits.
"It was nice to get it here for Carey," defenceman Hall Gill said.
Coming off a 4-0 loss in the outdoor Heritage Classic at Calgary on Sunday, and with only one win in seven games (1-4-2), the Canadiens switched all four forward lines and stressed defensive play. It paid off as they roared to a 14-1 shot advantage in the first 10 minutes in a building where they had lost seven straight, dating to November 2000.
Montreal got goals from three lines, with Desharnais opening the scoring on a breakaway 6:07 in. Gionta doubled the lead just over a minute later on a rebound of P.K. Subban's point shot.
"Obviously things had gotten stale," Gionta said of the shake-up.
Mikael Samuelsson and Henrik Sedin scored power-play goals, and Roberto Luongo made 22 saves as the Canucks lost at home in regulation for the fifth time this season (21-5-5). Vancouver's lead atop the NHL is down to one point over Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia, and five ahead of Detroit in the West.
"We knew we were going to meet a team that was on edge and they proved it the first 10 minutes," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "They threw everything they had at us. They were first on the puck. They completely controlled the game."
Vancouver closed the shot gap with two straight chances for their No. 1 ranked power play in the first period, and Price gave them another advantage three minutes into the second by shooting the puck over the glass.
Sedin scored through Ryan Kesler's screen 20 seconds later, and by the midway point of the second period, the Canucks had a 23-17 shot advantage — and a 22-3 edge over 20 minutes — before Kostitsyn made it 3-1 on the Canadiens' fourth shot.
Montreal killed a 37-second, 5-on-3 to end the second period, but Samuelsson closed the gap with another power-play goal through Kesler's screen 1:06 into the third. The Canucks kept pressing, but Price made his best save, a blocker stop on Alex Burrows' tip, with two minutes left.
"For whatever reason, our battle level wasn't there," Kesler said of the early 2-0 deficit. "After that 10 minutes I thought we dominated the game, but you've got to give it to their goalie."