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|'Best game - so far,' Markov says; Teamwork brings redemption with overtime stunner
13.01.2014. Hickey, Pat. The Gazette
A smile lit up Andrei Markov's face when he was asked for the secret to scoring goals.
"Just close your eyes and shoot," Markov replied after he scored two goals, including the winner in overtime, to give the Canadiens a 2-1 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night at the Bell Centre.
If the Canadiens' 3-1 loss to the Flyers in Philadelphia on Wednesday was the low point of the season, the win over the Blackhawks represented the team at its best.
"That was our best game - so far," Markov said, suggesting this team can be even better.
"That's our game," the defenceman added. "If you play like that every time, success is going to be on your side."
While Markov was introduced as the first star, the theme running through the dressing room after the game was that this was a team victory.
"There was nothing we could do about the last game except to learn from it," said head coach Michel Therrien, who was pilloried after the Philadelphia debacle. "Alexei Emelin was good, Marky was fantastic but, to be honest, everyone played a good game. Everyone. That's why I'm so proud of my team."
It started with solid defence. While Therrien has been accused of preaching a stolid style of play, the system is designed to force the opposition into mistakes and create offence at the other end. The Canadiens stuck to the game plan and the result was a 38-20 edge in shots.
"We took away their time and space," captain Brian Gionta said. "When they spend time in their defensive zone, they get frustrated." Gionta, Tomas Plekanec and Travis Moen were charged with shadowing Chicago's top line of Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp, and they did an outstanding job.
Plekanec had a game-high 11 shots on goal, including two while playing short-handed. A disciplined Montreal team allowed the Blackhawks only one power play and the Canadiens outshot Chicago 4-0 during those two minutes.
"They have a very good power play, but they use four forwards and sometimes that opens up opportunities for the defence," Plekanec said. Chateauguay's Corey Crawford had the individual highlight of the night on one of the Canadiens' short-handed efforts. The Chicago goaltender lost his stick on the previous rush, but used his glove to stop Brandon Prust on a partial breakaway and then made a leg save on the rebound attempt by Lars Eller.
While it was a team effort by the Canadiens, there were some noteworthy individual efforts.
Crawford was outstanding in the Chicago net, but Carey Price stopped 19 of 20 shots as he continued to polish his Olympic credentials. The Canadiens goaltender received a break early in the third period when referee Wes McCauley waved off a Chicago goal because Michal Handzus impeded Price.
"That was a big point in the game," Price said. "If they score, it gives them a tie with a lot of time left. I couldn't move to the puck.
Someone, I think it was Handzus, was at the top of the paint and I was pushed to the other side of the net."
Plekanec praised Price, saying: "He threw us all on his back and carried us tonight."
Therrien called this Emelin's best game since he returned from major reconstructive knee surgery in November. The defenceman saw his ice time dwindle over the past month. He was a healthy scratch in Dallas on Jan. 2 and played only 8:58 in Philadelphia.
Emelin came out hitting against Chicago, and Therrien - who doles out ice time on a merit basis - gave the Russian more responsibility as the night wore on. On a night when the Canadiens outhit the visitors 28-11, Emelin led the way with six hits and also blocked three shots. He had an assist on Markov's first goal and finished the night at plus-2. "We had a few bad games, some bad bounces, but you have to stay positive and keep working," Markov said when asked about Emelin. "Every player, when you struggle, you have to work to get positive energy."
And then there was George Parros, who was in the lineup for first time since Dec. 14. Two concussions have limited Parros to nine games this season. He only played 3:33 against the Blackhawks, but made his presence felt, testing Crawford with a slapshot early in the game and then serving as a screen on Markov's first goal.
"In a year full of negativity so far with what's happened, it's nice to come back and be able to contribute," Parros said. "Put a big smile on my face after a goal like that.
"I knew the puck was freed from the corner and got to the point and I knew I could get a pretty good screen on the goalie. No one was trying to push me out of the way and I just wanted to make sure I didn't block it."
Therrien and the players downplayed a suggestion they won this game for general manager Marc Bergevin and goaltender coach Stephane Waite - who were previously employed by the Blackhawks - but Therrien conceded: "It was important for those guys. Marc was pretty happy."