Byron scored the tiebreaking goal with nine seconds left and Montreal edged the Nashville Predators 2-1 on Thursday night in Subban’s first game against the Canadiens since they traded him last summer.
Brendan Gallagher tied the game midway through the third period and Carey Price made 24 saves for his 28th victory as Montreal extended its winning streak to four games.
“We talked about getting some secondary scoring and we got some tonight,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien said. “Secondary scoring won us the game. When different people go out and give you those goals, that just makes us that much stronger.”
Ryan Ellis scored for the Predators, with an assist from Subban, before leaving with a lower-body injury. Pekka Rinne stopped 24 shots in defeat as Nashville had its four-game winning streak snapped.
Byron poked the puck away from Matt Irwin in the neutral zone and chased it down the length of the ice on a breakaway with time running out in the third period. Rinne got his body on the shot, but the puck trickled past him for Byron’s first goal in 14 games.
“I’ve been doing some really good things lately, and sometimes the puck just doesn’t bounce your way,” Byron said. “And you have to try not to stay frustrated and deviate from your game.”
The loss was Nashville’s first in regulation at Montreal since Jan. 15, 2009.
“We sat back a bit in the second,” Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. “In the third it was an even hockey game. They buried the one chance, but even after that I thought we responded well. We got down into their end and had our chances, and then it was a tough break.”
Subban won a Norris Trophy with Montreal as the NHL’s top defenseman in 2013, and the Canadiens saluted him with a video montage before the puck was dropped Thursday.
A teary-eyed Subban acknowledged the crowd during a long standing ovation.
“I wasn’t really sure how I was going to feel,” he said. “I played a lot of hockey games in this building.
“A lot of great things happened in this building and in this city while I was here. All those memories come back, whether it’s stuff to do at the hospital, with the kids, family, teammates, emotional hockey games. We shared that with all the fans and the community here.”
Of course, it didn’t stop those same fans from booing Subban during a tight third period each time he rushed the puck. But Montreal fans have done that to many star players who have left or been traded in the past.
“It was great,” Subban said with a laugh. “You know what? That’s the first time I’ve ever been booed at the Bell Centre. I kind of enjoyed that. The fans here are some of the best sports fans in the world. It was great to play in front of them tonight.”
Montreal won 2-1 in overtime at Nashville on Jan. 3. Subban missed that game with a back injury.
“He played really hard for us here,” Price said. “It was his home.
“No doubt he was a fan favorite. I’m just happy that the fans received him like that.”
Subban, traded last June for respected defenseman Shea Weber, needed only a few shifts to get on the score sheet against his former team. With the Predators playing with the man advantage, Subban passed the puck to Ellis, who fired a slap shot from the point past Price to make it 1-0 at 18:25 of the first period.
Ellis limped off the ice in the second with a right leg injury and did not return. The defenseman was hurt fighting for a loose puck with Alexander Radulov.
Montreal’s scoring woes continued into March after the Canadiens managed just 21 goals in 13 February games.
“It’s a good feeling,” said Gallagher, who hadn’t scored in 11 games. “Everyone knows I haven’t scored many goals this year. There’s definitely a bit of relief. I’m aware I need to produce more and score more goals.”
NOTES: The day before the game, Subban was given a medal by Governor General David Johnston to mark his September 2015 pledge to raise $10 million for the Montreal Children’s Hospital. “It meant a lot for him to play here and wear the Montreal Canadiens sweater,” Gallagher said. “For him to come back and get a ceremony, I thought that was nice. But once the puck dropped, everything just went away and we focused on the game.” … Montreal improved to 5-2-0 under Julien. … Canadiens newcomer Dwight King, acquired at the trade deadline this week, made his Montreal debut. King, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with Los Angeles, played on the fourth line with Michael McCarron and Torrey Mitchell. King finished with five hits in 10:37. New additions Andreas Martinsen, Steve Ott and Brandon Davidson were healthy scratches.
Predators: Host the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night.
Canadiens: At the New York Rangers on Saturday night.
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