Only eight days after an emergency appendectomy, the left-winger found a puck in the slot and slid it to the net for David Desharnais to tip in for a goal that helped the Montreal Canadiens to a 2-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Sunday afternoon.
Pacioretty, who was expected to be out for three to four weeks, looked strong as ever as he skated a regular shift on the top line with Desharnais and Erik Cole and picked up his fifth point in four games played this season.
"I just trusted that those two battling would make the right play and it ended up right on my stick," he said of the goal that tied the game 1-1 at only 2:13 of the period after Jakob Silfverberg opening the scoring for Otawa.
"That's what I mean about them doing the heavy lifting early on."
Pacioretty's ability to bounce back from injuries causes fans and even his teammates to shake their heads in wonder.
In the 2010-11 season, he was stretched off the Bell Centre with a concussion and a broken vertebrae in his neck after crashing head first into a stanchion. But he was back on his feet within days.
He missed the last 15 games of the regular season and the first round of the playoffs, but might have been back if the Canadiens had gone further into the post-season.
He responded with a breakout, 33-goal season in 2011-12 and was awarded the Bill Masterton Trophy for persistence and dedication.
Pacioretty said resilience is something he has learned.
"I look at adversity as a good thing,"he said. "I've had to deal with a lot in my career, whether it be injuries or getting sent down.
"I've had a bumpy road here in Montreal and I wouldn't change any of it for a second. It's made me the player and the person I am and I'm thankful to have got all these opportunities."
Cole had the winner later in the first period for the Canadiens (6-2-0), who swept home games on consecutive afternoons after a 6-1 win over the Buffao Sabres on Saturday.
The Senators (5-3-1) were coming off a 1-0 loss in Carolina on Friday night and are struggling to score with top centre Jason Spezza out with a sore back.
Goaltenders Carey Price and Craig Anderson were both at the top of their games as Ottawa outshot Montreal 33-32.
Price may have caught a break as a goalie interference call nullified a goal by defenceman Andre Benoit 1:26 into the third frame. Price was outside the crease when Silfverberg learned into him as Benoit shot.
Price made no comment. When asked if he thought it was the right call, Montreal coach Michel Therrien smiled but also said nothing.
"We thought we had tied the game and they waived it off," said Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson. "We didn't think it should have been waived off but that's the way it goes.
"We still had some good chances after that. It wasn't to be."
Price is on a roll, having won six starts in a row since dropping a 2-1 decision to Toronto on opening night Jan. 19.
The Canadiens opened last season 1-5-2 and ended up last in the Eastern Conference. They have won five in a row at home, while last season playing at the Bell Centre was a chore as the team went a tepid 16-15-10.
"You never know what to expect when you have a new coach, new system and everything," said defenceman Josh Gorges. "We have a group here that wants to get it done. They want to pay the price, win the battles."
Pacioretty's return gave Montreal an almost completely healthy lineup and dropped Lars Eller from the first to the fourth line a day after he had three points against the Sabres.
The game was only 36 seconds old when Tomas Plekanec was sent off for goalie interference and Ottawa used the man advantage to take the lead at 1:38. Patrick Wiercioch found Silfverberg at the far blue-line with a stretch pass during a Montreal line change and the rookie went in alone to beat Price on the glove side.
Pacioretty slid a puck to the net that Desharnais tipped past Anderson to tie it at 2:12.
A Montreal power play had just ended when Cole lifted a feed from Francis Bouillon over Anderson at 11:29.
P.K. Subban picked up a point in a second straight game since he returned after a contract dispute. He also had to leave the ice for a second day in a row to have a skate repaired, missing the opening 10 minutes of the third period.
Notes: With Pacioretty's return, reserve centre Petteri Nokelainen (back) is Montreal's only injured player. ... Ryan White was scratched for a second game, joining Tomas Kaberle and Yannick Weber. ... Sergei Gonchar and Guillaume Latendresse sat for the Senators, who are also without Jason Spezza (back) and Jared Cowen (hip).