Cammalleri leads Habs in rout of Rangers
Forward scores twice, adds 2 assists, while Halak posts shutout
A week ago, it looked like the Montreal Canadiens' season was coming apart after losses on consecutive nights to close rivals in the NHL Eastern Conference playoff race.
But after their 6-0 thrashing of the New York Rangers on Saturday night, thanks to four points from Michael Cammalleri and 32 saves from Jaroslav Halak, it may not be time to write off the Canadiens just yet.
The win came 24 hours after Montreal picked up a rare victory over Martin Brodeur and the Devils in New Jersey and put the Canadiens back in playoff position in eighth place in the Eastern Conference — tied with the Rangers, who hold down seventh because of a game in hand.
"You realize you have to get better, we got serious about things this week," Cammalleri said of losses last weekend of 4-2 to Ottawa and 6-2 to the Rangers in New York. "But these are just two wins. We want a third. This is just a start."
After Scott Gomez scored in the first period, Montreal broke it open with three goals in a 3:42 span early in the second to chase goalie Henrik Lundqvist at 6:17 in favour of Matt Zaba, who allowed two goals on 16 shots in his first NHL action.
Maxim Lapierre, with his first in 29 games, and Benoit Pouliot also scored in the second for Montreal. Tomas Plekanec scored in the third for Montreal (25-23-5).
The Rangers (24-21-7), beaten 2-0 in Philadelphia on Thursday, are 2-4-1 in their last seven and were shut out in four of those games.
It was an eventful week, as the Canadiens surprised their fans by abruptly releasing enforcer Georges Laraque on Thursday with the intention of buying out the final year of his contract. They responded by going 2-0-0 with two of their best efforts of the season.
Montreal also called up journeyman forward Mathieu Darche from Hamilton of the American Hockey League and the Montreal native has a goal and two assists in three games.
Some observers feel the team will have better chemistry without Laraque, who often sat out and was used sparingly by coach Jacques Martin when he did see action.
In Laraque's absence Saturday, defenceman Ryan O'Byrne engaged Rangers tough guy Aaron Voros in a long, free-swinging battle in the third period that drew an ovation from the crowd of 21,273 at Bell Centre.
Cammalleri, who finished the night with two goals and two assists, called it "one of the better fights of the year — a face-punching contest."
The Canadiens are one of the best 4-on-4 teams in the NHL and they had two chances to show it in the first 10 minutes. On the second, Montreal won the faceoff in the New York zone and Gomez banged in Jaroslav Spacek's point shot at 9:05. That gave Gomez 16 points in his last 15 games.
They were 4-on-4 again 2:35 into the second period when Cammalleri opted not to go off on a line change and instead moved up and fired in a pass from Spacek.
Lapierre batted Darche's rebound out of the air and in off Lundqvist at 4:37, and Cammalleri took a behind-the-back pass from Brian Gionta and scored his 26th of the season at 6:17 to chase Lundqvist.
Pouliot made a deft move to deflect Cammalleri's pass behind Zaba from the slot on a power play at 10:59. It was Pouliot's 10th goal in 15 games since joining the Canadiens in a trade — one more than he had in 65 games with the Minnesota Wild.
Plekanec was parked at the side of the net to lift a puck in off the post at 12:19 of the third for Montreal's second power-play goal of the night to round out the scoring.
Before Saturday, Montreal had not scored more than five goals in a game in a game this season.
Canadiens defenceman Paul Mara sat out with an upper-body injury while forward Sergei Kostitsyn returned after missing 10 games with an ankle injury.
For New York, Ales Kotalik and Donald Brashear were scratched.
The Canadiens go on the road for games Tuesday at Florida, Wednesday in Tampa and Saturday in Ottawa.