Hidden Game: Canadiens ride early goals, Cayden Primeau's brilliance to win

Montreal scored on three of its first four shots, while Primeau made 41 saves for his second shutout in victory over the lowly Blue Jackets.

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There’s nothing like a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets to cure everything ailing a struggling team.

The Canadiens had lost nine of 11 before facing the Blue Jackets and were 5-12-3 in their last 20 despite, truth be told, playing some competitive matches against good teams.

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We’re not ready to suggest Montreal has turned the corner just yet, but for six minutes on Tuesday night at the Bell Centre, this club could do no wrong. We have no doubt the Boston Bruins, next up on Thursday night, must be nervous already.

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News you need (Part I): The Alouettes’ coaching staff is in Montreal this week for meetings. Obviously, with nothing better to do on a Tuesday night, they were guests of the Canadiens. History will note your Hidden Game correspondent saw them leaving after the second period. We believe this was more a reflection of the early hours football coaches maintain than the entertainment value of what they had witnessed through 40 minutes.

News you need (Part II): There have been some great Canadiens players over the years who wore jersey 27, led by the incomparable Frank Mahovlich. Alex Galchenyuk, another former #27, wasn’t one of them. Nonetheless Corvey Irvin, the Als’ defensive-line coach, actually was spotted wearing his sweater in the press room. We hope Irvin got a good deal on it.

Strange but true (Part I): Last Saturday, when Columbus faced Nashville, the Predators registered the game’s first 18 shots, and 49 in total, yet could only muster a 1-0 lead en route to a 2-1 victory. Tuesday night, the Blue Jackets outshot the Canadiens 22-8 in the first period on Tuesday, yet somehow trailed 3-0.

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That’s how you start a game: One shot, one goal for Montreal. Brendan Gallagher redirected Jake Evans’s pass from the corner after only 21 seconds. It was the quickest goal by the Canadiens this season to start a contest.

That’s how you bury a lousy team: Two shots, two goals for Montreal. Juraj Slafkovsky increased the Canadiens’ lead at 3:15 on the power play, his one-time blast from the right-wing circle beating Elvis Merzlikins.

Elvis has left the building: Joshua Roy made it 3-0 at 5:48, deflecting Arber Xhekaj’s blue-line shot. Three goals on four shots prompted Columbus head coach Pascal Vincent to replace Merzlikins with Daniil Tarasov. We wonder whether Merzlikins even required a shower?

Strange, but true (Part II): The Blue Jackets’ netminders, before the opening faceoff, had combined to post a .930 save percentage over their last nine games, while stopping 294 of 316 shots.

Stop the music: The Canadiens have seven defencemen but dress six. In this game of musical chairs, it was Jordan Harris who was left without a seat against Columbus. Johnathan Kovacevic drew back in after being a healthy scratch the last three games.

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Strange, but true (Part III): Rafaël Harvey-Pinard was the sentimental Bell Centre darling last season, especially after scoring three goals against Columbus on March 25. This season, he has battled injuries and has been nearly invisible on many nights. He hasn’t scored since Jan. 15 — a goalless streak of 12 games.

He’s not alone: Cole Caufield is getting plenty of opportunities, but one of the Canadiens’ streakiest players has now gone 11 games without a goal.

The ghost of Carey Price lives on: Cayden Primeau made a spectacular glove save early in the game on Alexandre Texier.

And just for good measure: Primeau, now the Canadiens’ backup goalie following the trade of Jake Allen to New Jersey, made a pad save on Damon Severson in the 11th minute, with Columbus on the power play. By evening’s conclusion, the fans were chanting Primeau’s name and gave him a standing ovation. Primeau blocked 41 shots and has recorded both Canadiens shutouts this season.

Learn to skate: Late in the period, Sean Kuraly couldn’t stop and rammed into Primeau who wasn’t injured on the play.

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Strange, but true (Part IV): Despite allowing the three first-period goals, no Columbus player was any worse than minus-1. Of course, one of the Canadiens’ goals was scored with the man advantage.

Pass of the night: Kovacevic to Kaiden Guhle, who emerged from his tripping minor early in the second period to come in alone, only to hit the crossbar.

That looked dangerous: Early in the second period, Cole Sillinger took Josh Anderson into the Max Pacioretty stanchion by the Canadiens’ bench. Somehow, Anderson escaped the one-car collision with his senses intact.

Hit of the night: Midway through the second period Xhekaj — who else — flattened Jake Bean.

Next time, decline the penalty: Columbus was 0-for-4 on the power play.

Stats of the night: With one stop on four shots, Merzlikins’s save percentage was .250. … Caufield had a team-high six shots. … David Savard blocked seven shots.

They said it: “There’s no words to describe it,” Primeau said. “It just means so much, all the support. There’s truly no words to describe it. This is something you dream about.

“Nothing changes for me,” he added. “I go into every game the same way, trying to be consistent. But definitely excited for the opportunity. Once I got into (the dressing room) everyone was going crazy. It means so much. They were just as much a part of that win as I was. I think (Savard) stopped more shots tonight than I did.”

“The first period wasn’t our best period, but we were very opportunistic,” Gallagher said. “We scored early and it obviously helped. It’s nice to get up 3-0 early.”

“He (Primeau) played super-well,” head coach Martin St. Louis said. “He was ready for this game.”

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