VANCOUVER — Montreal Canadiens centre Phillip Danault breathed a giant sigh of relief Wednesday.
Twenty-five games into the season, he finally scored his first goal of the year.
"There was more than one monkey," he said after Montreal (12-6-7) trounced the Canucks 5-1. "I threw a bunch of monkeys off my back."
Danault sealed Montreal's decisive victory late in the third period, shovelling a shot past Vancouver goalie Thatcher Demko.
Last season, the 28-year-old from Victoriaville, Que., put up 47 points (13 goals, 34 assists) in 71 regular season games. This year, he'd notched 10 helpers heading into Wednesday's matchup.
"You're trying to work as hard as you can and doing the right things every game. And sometimes it's harder to score and you got to stay positive and it was a big process, but I had to stay positive," Danault said, adding that his wife and teammates kept his spirits up during the scoring drought.
"(My teammates) know the player I am, they know what I can do and they trust me and it happened tonight."
Everyone in the locker room was happy to see Danault's luck turn, said Canadiens captain Shea Weber.
"Maybe it'll come a little easier as we go here," Weber said. "Not to say that he hasn't played well for us — he's done a good job and hopefully that one just gets out of the way for him and off his mind."
Montreal got off to solid start Wednesday night and refused to relent across three periods.
The Canadiens hemmed the Canucks into their own zone for much of the first frame, peppering Demko with shots.
The Vancouver goalie finally let one through 15:34 into the game.
Toffoli picked the puck off the stick of defenceman Nate Schmidt as he attempted to clear it from behind the Canucks net and sliced a quick pass to Jesper Kotkaniemi, and the Finnish forward opened the scoring with his third goal of the season.
“I don’t know if we were at our best there," said Demko, who stopped 40-of45 shots. "It seemed like Montreal was jumping and had a little bit of a quicker step. But it is what it is.”
Kotkaniemi had a goal and an assist on the night, while Weber, Corey Perry and Jeff Petry also found the back of the net for the Canadiens. Tyler Toffoli tallied a pair of assists and Carey Price registered 23 saves
Interim head coach Dominique Ducharme said Wednesday's performance was the best he's seen from the Habs since he took over the bench on Feb. 24.
"We were relentless in what we were doing on both sides," he said.
"We want to be that way in all situations, being a block of five with and without the puck and really, you need to work, you need a lot of engagement for that and that's what we saw tonight. That's the way we want to be playing."
Brock Boeser had the lone goal for Vancouver (12-16-2), sending a rocket into the back of the Montreal net on a second-period power play.
"I think everyone in the room can say they’re not happy with that performance," he said. "We know how we can play and we have expectations to play a lot better than that. We know our standard. That’s unacceptable.”
Wednesday's result gives Montreal the edge in the two-game series after Vancouver took a 2-1 shootout win Monday.
It also snaps a three-game winning streak for the Canucks, who sit in fifth place in the all-Canadian North Division, trailing the Habs by five points.
"You’re going to have stinkers. It’s by no means an excuse, but we had too many players not play well," said Canucks coach Travis Green. "And we’re not a team that can bring a C, D game — not many teams in the NHL are — and can get away with a point or a win. We deserved exactly what we got tonight.”
It's a quick turnaround for the Habs, who face the Flames in Calgary on Thursday. The Canucks will host the Oilers on Saturday.
NOTES: J.T. Miller and Ben Chiarot dropped the gloves in a short tilt midway through the first period. Both were handed five-minute penalties for fighting. Chiarot did not return to the game. Ducharme said the defenceman injured his hand and will not play Thursday after injuring his hand. … Petry's goal extended his point streak to five games. He has four goals and two assists across the stretch, and leads Montreal in scoring with 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists). … Toffoli skated in his 550th game.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 10, 2021.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press