MONTREAL - Max Pacioretty thinks the Montreal Canadiens just made a big statement by beating a Western Conference powerhouse.
Pacioretty scored twice and Carey Price made 31 saves to lead the first-place Canadiens to a 4-1 victory over the visiting St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.
"We had stretches where we've struggled to score goals, and we came in and scored four against a team that doesn't give up many," said Pacioretty. "That really helps the confidence."
The Blues descended on the Bell Centre winners of 10 of their previous 12 games. Second in the Central Division and just two points from the Western Conference lead, St. Louis is a defensively stingy club that came to Montreal with a league-low 1.89 goals-against-average.
"It shows that we can play with the big boys in the West," said Pacioretty, who got the eventual winner midway through the second period. "They're a great team over there, and hopefully we opened a few eyes tonight."
With the game tied 1-1 in the second, Pacioretty broke the deadlock at 7:32 — his team-leading ninth goal of the year. The sharpshooter got the better of goaltender Jake Allen on the breakaway after taking a stretch saucer pass from linemate Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau from his own zone.
"That was an amazing pass," said Pacioretty, who added his second of the game in the third period on another clever pass by David Desharnais. "I just had a feeling that it was going to land right over. Passes don't get much softer and nicer than that. I credit my first goal to (Parenteau) completely."
The Canadiens (15-5-1) stretched their lead atop the Eastern Conference to three points with the victory.
Montreal head coach Michel Therrien was reluctant to give too much import to the victory.
"It was a great challenge," he said. "This is one of the elite teams in the NHL — really well balanced, and they play really well defensively. It's the kind of game that can give you a lot of confidence.
"But it's a little early to make statements."
Montreal is making a knack of bouncing back from tough losses. On Tuesday, the Canadiens were dominated at home by the Pittsburgh Penguins en route to a 4-0 loss. Earlier in the year, Montreal answered embarrassing defeats by the Tampa Bay Lightning and Chicago Blackhawks with victories.
The Blues (12-6-1) got off to a promising start on Thursday, as Ken Hitchcock's men pinned the Canadiens in their own zone for lengthy periods of time in the first period.
Vladimir Tarasenko brought back memories of the defunct Montreal Expos when he scored the opener at 7:45 of the first, batting the puck out of midair like a baseball slugger at the plate. The 22-year-old displayed impressive hand-eye co-ordination on the goal, which came on just the Blues' third shot on Price.
After St. Louis took the lead, the period was played largely in the neutral zone and along the boards, and the Canadiens failed to score a goal in the first period for the 16th time this season.
After going 96:09 without scoring — Montreal had not found the back of the net since the third period against Detroit on Sunday — the Canadiens scored twice in quick succession against the Blues.
Dale Weise jumped on a defensive blunder by Kevin Shattenkirk to tie the game 1-1 at 4:50 of the second. Shattenkirk made an ill-advised pass out from behind his net that was intercepted by Weise. The Blues defenceman then skated right into his own goalie.
Weise patiently waited for Allen to go down before beating the Blues goalie up high for his fourth of the year.
"It's a nice bounce for me," said Weise, who has already bettered his goal total from last season. "Just standing there, throw your stick out front and it hits you. I made a little pump fake, and then saw he took his goalie out. I tried to get in there as quick as I could."
With Montreal up 2-1 in the third, Price made back-to-back saves on two different odd-man rushes 20 seconds apart, first on Jori Lehtera and then on Jaden Schwartz. The Canadiens goaltender stopped 31-of-32 shots for his 12th win of the season.
Pacioretty scored his second of the game shortly afterwards, before Lars Eller added a fourth for the Canadiens at 12:03.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock thought his team made too many mental mistakes.
"We made some puck errors that ended up in our net," said Hitchcock. "We made a big push when it was 2-1 — we got all the scoring chances. Their third one really took the wind out of our sails. We made some casuals plays and they ended up at the back of our net.
"Montreal has speed, and they really took advantage of our mistakes. They scored on their opportunities, and we missed on ours."
The Habs were exceptionally well disciplined for the second game in a row, as Therrien's men took no penalties against St. Louis' league-best power play on the road (30.4 per cent).
Earlier in the day, the Canadiens acquired veteran defenceman Bryan Allen from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Rene Bourque.
Allen has 29 goals and 106 in 716 career regular season games.
"He's a big guy with a lot of character who played for one the best Western Conference teams," Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said before Montreal's home game against the St. Louis Blues. "I can't see why he wouldn't be able to help us here in Montreal."
Notes: Therrien made no changes to the attacking lines that lost to Pittsburgh on Tuesday. At the blue-line, defenceman Mike Weaver was back in the lineup. … St. Louis had not lost a game in Montreal since 2004. … Montreal is now 12-0-0 when tied or leading after two periods. … Allen made 26 saves in defeat for the Blues.