MONTREAL — Eric Staal rose to the occasion Monday, scoring the overtime winner in his Montreal debut as the Canadiens rallied from a 2-0 deficit to defeat the Edmonton Oilers 3-2.
All that was missing were the fans, who would have no doubt raised the roof at the Bell Centre had they been there for the Hollywood ending. The 36-year-old Staal beat Mike Smith with a wrist shot from the face-off circle 4:02 into the extra period to complete the Canadiens comeback.
"I just love that we stayed with it and competed," said Staal. "Tonight was a lot of fun to be part of. I could feel the energy through the TV screens. I wish it was full because I know what this place is like when it's full, especially in that type of moment. But it was awesome nonetheless."
Staal played 16 minutes 56 seconds, often in short shifts as he found his legs after a week's quarantine following his March 26 trade from Buffalo. He won 14-of-18 faceoffs.
Montreal (17-9-9) improved to 2-9 in overtime/shootouts this season while Edmonton (23-14-2) fell to 2-2.
Edmonton was outplayed early but led 1-0 after the first and 2-0 after the second. And Montreal could have been in a deeper hole had it not been for some highlight-reel saves by Carey Price.
"He bought us time in the second period to really come back and have a chance to win in the third, and that's what we did," said Montreal interim head coach Dominique Ducharme.
Devin Shore and Darnell Nurse scored for Edmonton, which managed goals in the last minute of both the first and second periods.
Josh Anderson and Tomas Tatar scored for Montreal in its third-period comeback.
After some fine work along the boards, Corey Perry found Anderson parked at the crease 1:45 into the third period to get the Habs back in the game. It was Anderson's 14th of the season.
Tatar tied it up less than four minutes later, snapping a shot past Smith for his eighth after Paul Byron took advantage of an Edmonton giveaway.
"Best way to protect a lead is to play in the other team's end and we were just the first five minutes or so (of the third) too passive, didn't do enough forechecking to give us the momentum we needed," said Edmonton coach Dave Tippett.
Tippett gave credit where credit was due when it came to Staal.
"He made a great shot. Smitty was great all game but he made a great shot to end the game," he said.
The Canadiens' win came at a cost. Inspirational forward Brendan Gallagher left in the first period with a broken thumb, according to Ducharme, after being hit in the right hand by an Alexander Romanov shot while screening Smith.
Gallagher, who plays much bigger than his five-foot-nine frame, has a history of hand injuries, sidelined in the past after absorbing shots by Shea Weber and Johnny Boychuk.
Price also seemed in some discomfort at one point of the game. But he stayed in. Ducharme said he was being checked out, adding he did not think it was anything serious.
Montreal held a 15-5 edge in shots after the first period, an advantage narrowed to 22-19 after the second. It was 29-22 for the Canadiens after regulation time.
The Oilers were coming off a 3-2 win over Calgary on Friday. Their game Saturday against Vancouver was postponed due to the Canucks' COVID-19 outbreak.
Montreal saw its three-game win streak snapped in a 6-3 loss to visiting Ottawa on Saturday.
The Canadiens had won three of the four previous meetings with Edmonton this season, blanking the Oilers 4-0 last time out March 30 — a game that saw Edmonton record just 17 shots and Price earn career shutout No. 49.
Staal played on a line with Jonathan Drouin and Tyler Toffoli. It was regular-season game No. 1,273 for the veteran centre who came into the contest with 439 goals and 592 assists.
"I've been lucky to play a long time in this league," said Staal. "I'm grateful every day. Every day to be able to be out there and compete and play, it's awesome. And there's nothing better.
"So this was a moment for sure that we'll keep in the memory bank but I'm hoping there's even bigger and better ones here in the next while."
Montreal acquired the native of Thunder Bay, Ont, from Buffalo on March 26 in exchange for a third- and fifth-round pick in the 2021 draft.
Smith was the busier goalie early, with the Canadiens holding a 12-1 edge in shots through the first 14 minutes.
But it was Edmonton that struck first through its fourth line and fifth shot, with 21 seconds remaining in the period. Jujhar Khaira rounded the goal, drawing the attention of three Canadiens on the wraparound attempt while Shore was left alone on the doorstep to stuff home the rebound for his third of the season.
Shore has scored five of his 42 career goals against the Habs.
Price robbed Alex Chiasson from close range on an Oilers power play midway through the second period. Price did again on another Edmonton man-advantage late in the period, stopping Leon Draisaitl and then stacking both pads to deny Chiasson — on a great feed by Connor McDavid off the rebound — losing his face mask in the process.
But moments later, Nurse overpowered Price with a rocket from the point with 11 seconds remaining in the period and four seconds left on the power play. It was his 13th goal of the season, moving him past Arizona's Jakob Chychrun (12) for the league lead among defencemen.
Montreal visits Toronto on Wednesday. The Oilers play Wednesday and Friday at Ottawa.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 5, 2021
The Canadian Press