By Adam Brady
ANAHEIM – If tonight’s Anaheim-Montreal battle was – as many dubbed it – a possible Stanley Cup Final preview, that certainly bodes well for the red-hot Ducks.
Anaheim got goals from Francois Beauchemin, Rickard Rakell and Cam Fowler, along with an outstanding performance from goalie John Gibson, in a 3-1 defeat of the Canadiens before a sellout crowd of 17,174 at Honda Center.
It was the fourth straight win for the Ducks and a two-game season sweep of the Eastern Conference front-running Habs, including a 2-1 victory in Montreal on December 18. The win, the seventh in their last eight, also moved the Ducks back into a familiar spot – the top of the NHL standings with 91 points (42-17-7).
Gibson earned his fourth win in his last five games and followed up a 39-save night in Dallas on Sunday with 37 stops tonight. "We knew it was a big game coming in," Gibson said. "It was a battle for first place in the league. We pay attention to that stuff, too. It was a big game, and it was nice."
The Ducks got on the board in fine fashion 6 1/2 minutes into the first when Kyle Palmieri sprinted into the Montreal zone and dished the puck off to Beauchemin, who rang it home off the far post from the right wing. That goal was the eighth of the season and tied a career high for Beauchemin, who actually played one game in 2002-03 for Montreal, the team that drafted him in 1998.
"It was a nice breakout, and a matter of jumping up into the play and making myself available for Palmy," Beauchemin said. "He made a nice pass and I got it on net and got a goal out of it. It won’t happen every game, but lately it seems to be working more often than not."
Anaheim made it 2-0 a little more than halfway through the second with the help of another former Canadien. Hampus Lindholm’s shot from the point kicked off goalie Carey Price and Jiri Sekac kept the puck alive, allowing Rakell to punch in the rebound. It was the third point in five games with Anaheim for Sekac, whom the Ducks acquired in a trade with Montreal last week.
"I’m not going to lie. It’s a pretty good feeling, and I’m very happy we beat the Habs," Sekac said. "Nothing gets better than beating the team you used to play for."
In that trade, the Habs got former Ducks winger Devante Smith-Pelly, who had four shots and 12:44 of ice time in his first game back in Anaheim.
The Ducks went up three goals with 2:02 left, seconds after a Clayton Stoner delay of game penalty and a Montreal empty net gave the Habs a two-man advantage. Right off the faceoff, Fowler slung the puck toward the Canadiens’ end, and it bounced into the abandoned net.
Montreal got its first goal with 1:41 left, a one-timer by Alex Galchenyuk from inside the crease that spoiled the shutout on Gibson’s otherwise sparkling night.
"I thought the team did a really good job," Gibson said. "There were a couple of chances in the first period, but after that I thought they really kept a lot of it on the outside. That made my job easier."
The Ducks will look to keep it going against another Eastern Conference power and another recently traded player, as Ben Lovejoy and the Pittsburgh Penguins come to Honda Center on Friday night.