NEW YORK — A third-period juggling act paid dividends for the Canadiens Friday as Nate Thompson scored the winning goal with 1:07 to play to give the Canadiens a 2-1 win over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
Midway through the period, Julien shortened his bench and he moved Nate Thompson from the fourth line into the middle of a line with Nick Cousins on left wing and Nick Suzuki on the right side.
They were playing their third shift together when Suzuki and Cousins combined to clog a Rangers rush up the middle and the Canadiens were off on a counter-attack that produced the winning goal.
“It was great for (Cousins) and Zuke to stop that play in the middle, and we just took off,” said Thompson. “I got on my horse and went to the back of the net and he made a good play and the puck went right to me and I slammed it home.”
Julien said he was concerned about puck possession when he put the line together.
“You’re late in the game, I put a centreman (Thompson) that’s very reliable who’s a lefty and you’ve got Suzuki who slides to the right who can take faceoffs, who was good on the faceoff circle too tonight, especially on his strong side,” said Julien when asked about the rationale for the change.
“So you just want to make sure that if there’s an icing or something late in the game, you’re not caught with the wrong guys out there on the ice,” said Julien. ” And there’s no doubt there’s the experience of Cousins there with those two guys, and it was just a line I put together to make sure I had the right people on at that time.”
Thompson described the change as a reunion.
“We had some chemistry when we played together before and we were excited to be together again”, said Thompson..”We were joking that we were reunited and we said ‘lets make something happen’ and we did.”
It was only the second win in the last 11 games for the Canadiens, who have a 2-6-3 record in that span, but they are back in second place in the Atlantic Division with 32 points. They are one point ahead of Florida and Buffalo, although both teams hold games in hand.
“This win was big,” said Thompson. “I think the last little while, our compete level has been good. There’s been a little bit of puck luck that’s not gone our way. But we wanted to stick to it and I think we did that tonight, we played a full 60 minutes.”
This was a classic goaltending duel, with Carey Price stopping 29 of 30 shots while Alexander Georgiev made 32 saves. It was far different from the Nov. 23 meeting at the Bell Centre, which saw the Rangers rally from a 4-0 deficit to beat the Canadiens 6-5.
“I don’t think either team was happy with the goals against the last round,” said Price. “So back-to-back games, guys were definitely being on the more safe side of things tonight.
“We did a good job on our side of the puck, especially since we were in a back-to-back situation,” said Price. “We did a good job of back-checking, which is not fun.”
The Canadiens also did a good job of killing two penalties, and a lot of that success was due to Price, who faced seven shots while playing shorthanded.
“That was a big game-changer for us, a momentum changer,” said Price.
The Canadiens are still 29th in the league in penalty-killing, but they have allowed only one power-play goal in the past five games.
“It takes a lot of perfect games to get that percentage up, but the important thing is that we’re starting to do the right things.,” said Price.