De­fence sti­fles one of NHL’s top lines

Montreal Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - PAT HICKEY ph­[email protected]­ twit­

Carey Price came up big for his third shutout of the sea­son Satur­day, but said he couldn’t have done it with­out a lit­tle help from his friends. Price made 28 saves as the Cana­di­ens blanked the Colorado Avalanche 3-0 at the Bell Cen­tre and one of the keys to the win was the strong play of the top de­fence pair of Shea We­ber and Vic­tor Mete when they were matched against Colorado’s top line of Nathan MacKin­non, Mikko Ran­ta­nen and Gabriel Lan­deskog. “I thought we played them well; I thought we played them well the last game (a 2-1 loss in Colorado on Dec. 19),” Price said. “They’re a great line, but (we) played them tight, we didn’t give them a lot of room out there. When they did have the puck, we closed on them quickly and made it a tough night for them.” “I thought we played a pretty good game tonight,” We­ber said. “We came out with a lot of en­ergy. We could have scored early on, but we didn’t. We stuck with it and fin­ished it off in the third. “Ob­vi­ously, they’re one of the best lines in the league, dan­ger­ous from one side to the other,” We­ber said of the MacKin­non line. “We talked about not just the five guys that are out there, there’s other guys that are go­ing to have to go out there and I thought ev­ery­body did a pretty good job tonight.” Ran­tanan, who is No. 2 in the NHL scor­ing race, man­aged only one shot on goal and had two shots blocked. MacKin­non, who is No. 4 in the scor­ing race, was also lim­ited to one shot on goal. Phillip Danault also con­trib­uted to stop­ping the top line. He as­sisted on two goals, in­clud­ing the game-win­ning short-handed ef­fort by Brett Ku­lak, but his most im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tion came in the face­off cir­cle, where he won seven of his 10 draws. Most of them were against MacKin­non, who won only two of nine. His big­gest face­off win was against Alexan­der Ker­foot when the Avalanche was on a power play in the third pe­riod. Danault won a draw in the Colorado zone and di­rected the puck back to Ku­lak on the point. He scored on a shot along the ice to snap a 0-0 tie. Rookie Jes­peri Kotkaniemi pro­vided the Cana­di­ens with an in­sur­ance goal a few min­utes later. He took a pass from Jonathan Drouin and ripped a slap shot past Se­myon Var­lamov. It was his fifth goal of the sea­son and his first since Dec. 15, a scor­ing drought of 12 games. Kotkaniemi de­scribed the slap shot as his se­cret weapon and said he saves it for the play­offs, but there’s no doubt he’ll be en­cour­aged to use it more. The youngest player in the NHL ac­knowl­edged he is in un­charted ter­ri­tory and said he has talked with coach Claude Julien about nav­i­gat­ing what has be­come the long­est reg­u­lar sea­son of his life. Jordie Benn com­pleted the scor­ing with an empty-net goal. It was his fourth goal of the sea­son, and that matches his ca­reer high. The week­end fin­ished with the Cana­di­ens back in the sec­ond wild-card spot in the East­ern Con­fer­ence with 53 points, but the race for the fi­nal play­off spot re­mains tight. The Is­lan­ders are the first wild-card with 54 points, but have two games in hand, Buf­falo has 52 points and one game in hand on Mon­treal. Look­ing ahead, the Cana­di­ens have a chance to re­gain the first wild-card spot in the At­lantic Divi­sion if they beat the Bru­ins on Mon­day in Bos­ton.

Jeff Petry of the Cana­di­ens, cen­tre, takes down Gabriel Lan­deskog of the Colorado Avalanche dur­ing a game at the Bell Cen­tre on Satur­day. The Habs were the 3-0 vic­tors. MI­NAS PANAGIOTAKIS/GETTY IMAGES

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