Montembeault cements his status as the Canadiens’ top goalie

Delivers a performance for the ages in the 4-3 win over the mighty Rangers at the Bell Centre.

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After his performance earlier this week in Dallas, you could say that Canadiens goaltender Samuel Montembeault should have started last Thursday against Buffalo.

He didn’t and the Canadians lost.

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However, his unforgettable performance on Saturday night against the New York Rangers, perhaps the best team in the NHL, shows that there is no arguing with something that has become clear: Montembeault is the Canadiens’ first goalie, and the moment of this. team to end their ménage-à-trois between the pipes.

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“I think he (Montembeault) has had more starts than the other two,” said head coach Martin St. Louis, referring to Jake Allen and Cayden Primeau after Montreal’s brilliant and very entertaining 4-3 win in the penalties at the Bell Centre. “I would say there is some kind of separation there. There are things that advance throughout the season, and you see that now. He’s earning all the extra starts, so to speak, that he’s getting now that maybe he didn’t from the beginning.

“We are going to continue managing that. It may not be the easiest situation to deal with, but I think we’ve done a great job on it.”

Cole Caufield scored the only goal in the second round shootout, beating Jonathan Quick with a low right-footed shot to the glove side. But that was just a comment on the sidelines of Montembeault’s story.

For the second time this season, the Canadiens allowed 48 shots. Montembeault stopped 45, for a save percentage of .938. That included 20 shots in the second period, when Montembeault had no chance to score the two New York goals he allowed. He also stopped all 14 shots in the first quarter and four in overtime when, in the final minute alone, Montembeault stopped Mika Zibanejad twice, along with Alex Lafrenière and a shot by defenseman Jacob Trouba.

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Then, for good measure, he rejected Artemi Panarin, Zibanejad and Lafrenière in the penalty shootout. Montembeault was deservedly named the first star of the game. In 18 games this season, he has a 9-5-3 record, a 2.93 average and a .906 save percentage. He usually gives his team a chance to win and last month he was rewarded with a contract extension.

Allen is 4-8-2 with a 3.52 average and a .900 save percentage, but has received limited offense when he has played, while Primeau is 4-4 with a 3.30 average and a save of .898.

“I just try to prepare when I get the call,” Montembeault stated diplomatically, while laughing. “We have three (next games) in four nights. We have a couple of back-to-back games in the next few weeks. I’m sure I’ll get some action there.

“In the end, I knew I had to make those stops and, in the penalty shootout, we got the win. “Shooting isn’t my cup of tea, but I’m happy I got it done tonight.”

After a lackluster performance against the Sabers two nights earlier during an embarrassing 6-1 loss, the Canadiens (17-17-5) were much more committed against the Rangers (26-10-2), who lost for just the fourth time in his last 11 games. Montreal has defeated New York just three times in eight games dating back to February 2020. And although the Rangers’ power play had been operating at a 30.4 percent efficiency rate, the visitors failed to capitalize on three labor advantages.

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The Canadiens took a 3-0 lead before the game was 23 minutes out, only to ultimately blow the lead, but they managed to persevere.

Brendan Gallagher opened the scoring at 11:37 of the first period, beating Quick from the left circle. It was Gallagher’s sixth goal this season, but his first since Nov. 11, ending a 24-game drought. It was only the ninth time this season that Montreal held the lead after the first period.

Sean Monahan, with his 10th goal, and Joel Armia, with his sixth, including his second in as many games, gave the Canadiens what should have been a safe three-goal cushion after Montreal scored in their first two second period shots.

But the rakish Rangers never gave up.

Vincent Trocheck and Panarin, with his team-leading 25th goal, brought the visitors within one before the second half ended, and before defenseman Adam Fox beat Montembeault from the point with a screen shot at the 9:30 of the third.

“We had really good energy pretty much all night,” Gallagher said. “It was a good game. They stepped back. They played hard. I liked our response. And obviously our goalie made some pretty good saves. Monty really stepped up and made some huge saves.

“You should feel good about yourself. He played amazing. All of our goalkeepers this year have been very good to us. We have a lot of confidence in these guys. Monty had the most saves of the season tonight and he earned them all. He stepped up in important moments for us. He should feel very good about himself.”

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