It had been more than a month since Max Pacioretty scored a goal and, when he finally got one, it was in the midst of a goaltending duel.
Montreal’s Carey Price and Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy traded spectacular saves for most of the night, but Pacioretty managed to score his first goal since Nov. 30 and Paul Byron got the only goal in a shootout to lift the Canadiens to a 2-1 win over the Lightning on Thursday night.
The win ended the Canadiens’ five-game losing streak.
“No one will really understand what it’s like when you go from a stretch where you’re not scoring, getting robbed the first shift one game, getting one taken back [for offside] the next game, feeling confident in your game but not producing,” said Pacioretty, a five-time 30-goal man who has nine through the first half of this season.
With both teams down a man, Pacioretty scored 20 seconds into the second period and Nikita Kucherov tied it 44 seconds later.
That was all the scoring through regulation time and the five-minute overtime despite a plethora of chances at both ends. The Lightning outshot Montreal 40-36 in regulation and 45-38 overall.
“That was the most fun I’ve had playing hockey in a long time,” said Pacioretty. “Our line played great.
“Carey played great. Their goalie played great. You could feel the energy in the building. All things considered, fans were really having fun tonight and really enjoyed the effort in the game. We have to take that in and remember how it feels and play for them and ourselves.
“To play an entertaining style of hockey, trying to create and make plays against the best team in the league, that’s a lot of fun.”
Two of the best
Pacioretty was robbed by Vasilevskiy from close range in the opening seconds of the game, but Price matched the Bolts goalie save for save. He was especially sharp on back-to-back chances in overtime by Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat.
“I’ll be honest, when I saw it was going to a shootout, I thought this could be a long one,” said Tampa Bay coach John Cooper. “But Byron made a really nice shot.
“That would go in on pretty much anybody. But if I’m going to sit here and circle the best [goalies] in the league, I think we may have just watched two of them.”
CAREY PRICE SAVE OF THE YEAR ARE YOU KIDDING ME <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Habs?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Habs</a> <a href=”https://t.co/atu2j31oTD”>pic.twitter.com/atu2j31oTD</a>
Vasilevskiy was coming off consecutive shutouts against Columbus and Toronto and has allowed only two goals in his last five starts.
Byron was the only player to score in the shootout for Montreal (17-20-4), which posted its first win since Dec. 22.
Tampa Bay (29-8-3), which beat Montreal at home Dec. 28, is 2-0-1 on a five-game road trip that takes the Lightning to Ottawa on Saturday and Detroit on Sunday.
Pacioretty, Price respond to Julien
Montreal coach Claude Julien challenged his best players to take the lead in getting the team back on track this week and veterans Pacioretty and Price were among those who responded.
Glittering chances were missed through an entertaining but scoreless opening period, but then the teams traded goals while each down a man to start the second frame.
Mikhail Sergachev, traded by Montreal to Tampa Bay for Jonathan Drouin in June, sent a weak pass up the left boards that was picked off by Pacioretty. The Canadiens captain skated into the slot and beat Vasilevskiy up high at the 0:20 mark. Vasilevskiy saw his 184 minutes 49 seconds goalless string end.
Kucherov then skated into the slot and wristed his 26th goal of the season through traffic to beat Price inside the near post.
The Lightning wasted a big chance 6:33 into the third when Karl Alzner mishandled the puck at the far blue line, but Kucherov’s backhand on the ensuing breakaway went well over the crossbar.
Montreal’s Jacob De la Rose played his first game since Dec. 7, replacing Daniel Carr.
Ryan Callahan returned to the Tampa Bay lineup after missing eight games with an upper-body injury.
After the game, the Canadiens traded backup goalie Al Montoya to the Edmonton Oilers for a conditional 2018 fourth-round draft pick. Montoya resumed practising this week after missing two months with a concussion. His job was taken over by veteran Antti Niemi.