Vancouver seemed to run out of gas at the end of a two-week road trip that culminated with a 3-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on Tuesday.
The Canucks have gone 3-3-1 since hitting the road at the end of November despite winning three of their first four games.
"We're definitely excited," said goaltender Ryan Miller, who made 21 saves in defeat versus the Canadiens. "A lot of guys are ready to get home. After 14 days, it's just time. We'll regroup."
Vancouver conceded a goal late in the third period to Montreal's Tomas Plekanec, and Max Pacioretty added a third for the Canadiens in an empty net with one second on the clock to extend the Canucks' winless run to three games.
After starting the road trip with wins in Columbus, Washington and Pittsburgh — and a loss in Detroit — Willie Desjardins' men have since been beaten by three Canadian teams. The Canucks lost 5-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs last Saturday, and then blew a three-goal lead versus the Ottawa Senators on Sunday, ultimately losing in overtime.
"If you can go .500 on the road, you have a chance of getting in the playoffs," said Desjardins. "But we had a chance to do better than that. We had what we needed. I didn't think we played badly in any of the games."
Added Alexandre Burrows: "We'll take the .500 road trip and we'll go back home and get better and keep improving. It would have been nice to get more, but if you looked at the two-week road trip early in the year and said (we would go) .500, I think we would have taken it. We got through it."
On Tuesday, the Canucks (18-9-2) were lackluster for much of the encounter, taking just 16 shots on Carey Price. Montreal directed a total 69 pucks towards Miller (25 shots on, 26 blocked, 18 misses), while Vancouver managed just 30.
The Canadiens (18-10-2) had several chances to put the game away early on, but couldn't capitalize.
With a two-man advantage to start the second period, Montreal's Alex Galchenyuk had a glorious opportunity to put his team ahead after a goal-mouth scramble, but he fired the puck wide. Then, Pacioretty hit the post to Miller's left near the end of the same period. Minutes later, youngster Sven Andrighetto failed to make contact with a loose puck on the doorstep.
"We all knew we needed to do more offensively," said Brendan Gallagher, who put the Canadiens in front 1-0 in the second period. "We generated a lot of chances. Every line contributed."
A modified Habs team took to the ice, as coach Michel Therrien did some substantial line shuffling after Montreal's loss in Dallas on Saturday.
Galchenyuk played centre with Pacioretty and Gallagher on the first line, while David Desharnais played with Michael Bournival on the second. Andrighetto joined Plekanec and Jiri Sekac on the third.
The new-look Canadiens finally broke the 1-1 deadlock with less than five minutes remaining in the game when Plekanec tipped a beautiful pass from Andrighetto into the roof of the net.
"It was a nice play by Andrighetto," said Plekanec. "One of the defencemen got too close to him so he had room to make that play to me and I just tried to lift it up because I was tight to the net and got lucky."
The play was made possible when a streaking Plekanec caught Vancouver's Burrows flat-footed at the blue-line. The Montreal native took full blame for the goal.
"It's all me," said Burrows. "I missed my turn, and the guy blew by me. I had to be above him, and I missed my turn."
The victory ended Montreal's three-game losing skid. The Canadiens are now 15-1-1 when tied or leading after two periods.
Prior to puck drop, the Canadiens honoured the late Jean Beliveau with a video tribute, moment of silence, and lengthy standing ovation. The Canadiens great passed away last Tuesday at the age of 83. Beliveau's wife, his daughter and his granddaughters were in attendance.
"We played one of our best games of the season," said Therrien. "The guys made sure it was a special night."
Shortly after the end of the ceremony, Nick Bonino came a hair from putting the Canucks ahead just one minute into the contest, but Price made a diving save to his right to keep the puck out.
Montreal went scoreless in the first period for the 22nd time this season.
Therrien's men finally got their breakthrough when Gallagher's seemingly harmless shot from the face-off circle beat Miller glove-side into the top corner of the net at 6:56. The goal was Gallagher's third since signing a six-year contract extension with Montreal on Nov. 29.
The Canucks wasted little time finding their equalizer, with Derek Dorsett beating Price exactly five minutes after the Canadiens opened the scoring. Dorsett scored Vancouver's fourth shorthanded goal of the season after taking a cross-ice feed from Jannik Hansen on an odd-man rush with Brad Richardson in the box.
Vancouver has not beaten Montreal at Bell Centre in regulation time since 2007.
This was the second and final meeting between the Habs and Canucks this season.
Notes: Lars Eller missed the encounter with an upper-body injury. Mike Weaver, who suffered a concussion against the Stars on Saturday, was also out of the lineup. ... Nathan Beaulieu, recalled from Hamilton on Monday, dressed for Montreal for the first time in three weeks. … The Canadiens have scored a league-low nine first-period goals this year. … The Canucks have not scored a power-play goal in their last four games (0-for-13).Suggest a correction