In the Habs' Room: Carey Price, defence stifle Colorado's potent offence

Avs' Mikko Rantanan, who is No. 2 in the NHL scoring race, and Nathan MacKinnon, who is No. 4, managed only one shot each on goal.

Canadiens Jesperi Kotkaniemi (15) celebrates a third-period goal with teammates against the Colorado Avalanche at the Bell Centre on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019. Minas Panagiotakis / Getty Images

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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 shorthanded 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.

Canadiens’ Jeff Petry (26) takes down Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche at the Bell Centre on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019. Minas Panagiotakis / Getty Images

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.

“I knew exactly where he was,” Danault said. “Sometimes, it’s not always perfect on the faceoff, but that time it was and (Kulak) made a great shot.”

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 spots remains tight. The Islanders are the first wild card with 54 points, but have two games in hand. Buffalo has 52 points and has 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.

phickey@postmedia.com

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