MONTREAL — Jesperi Kotkaniemi has two goals and one assist in three games against his former team, but Tuesday night felt a little bit sweeter.
Under a rain of boos, the former Montreal forward scored the winning shootout goal and the Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Canadiens 4-3 in comeback fashion.
“Not bad,” he said with a grin when asked how the goal felt. “I’ll try to be as respectful as I can, you know, but it’s special to get that one here.”
The 22-year-old, who joined the Canes after agreeing to a one-year, $6.1 million offer sheet in 2021, said he’s gotten used to the boos from the Bell Centre fans.
“Not that much today,” he added. “I kind of like it, actually. I’ll do that more often.”
“I've seen it a lot worse than that, but it was kind of fun to be honest,” said Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour. “We know that history here, and I get it. KK's a good kid and I was just happy for him to be able to do that because I know he's taking a lot of heat. Unnecessary, but that's just how it works.”
After a slow start, Jaccob Slavin, Brady Skjei and Jesper Fast scored as Carolina (42-12-8) forced overtime in the final frame. Brett Pesce collected two assists.
Antti Raanta made eight saves on 10 shots in one period of play. Frederik Andersen replaced Raanta after the first intermission and made 13 saves in relief.
Alex Belzile and Michael Pezzetta each had a goal and assist for the Canadiens, while Mike Hoffman netted a single. Chris Tierney chipped in with two assists.
“It was an exciting game, I didn’t even play and I’m tired,” said Habs coach Martin St. Louis. “It shows where we are as a group. We’re able to play with anyone.”
Jake Allen made 36 saves for Montreal (26-33-5).
“He’s playing superbly,” St. Louis said. “I’m happy for him and he helps us stay in games and win them.”
Allen returned the credit to his teammates for battling the Metropolitan Division leaders after losing their last three games in a difficult four-game Western Conference road trip.
“It's not an easy team to play to begin with,” Allen said. “But the situation we're in after coming off almost two weeks on the road. To come back from a West Coast trip, the first game is always really difficult.
“I was really impressed and proud of that group by the way they battled against a hell of a hockey team in a tough circumstance.”
Belzile broke the ice for the Canadiens at 10:17 of the opening frame. Raanta awkwardly saved a Pezzetta wrister from along the boards but Belzile hopped on the loose puck to give Montreal an early lead.
Montreal took a two-goal lead when Jonathan Drouin drove the puck along the boards and toward the crease. Just as Raanta made a move to the far post, Drouin slipped the puck to Hoffman behind him and the winger tapped in his 10th goal of the season.
Carolina instantly responded when Slavin beat Allen with a wrist shot from the left faceoff circle to cut the Canes' deficit to one goal by the first intermission.
The Hurricanes tied the game one minute into the second period. Kotkaniemi won the offensive zone faceoff, then Pesce located Skjei who beat Allen with a wrister for his career-high 10th goal.
Montreal regained the lead when Pezzetta tapped in Tierney’s centring pass in front of the net at 2:49 of the second period.
Paul Stasny tied the game in the final frame by sending the puck over Allen and into the net. Habs coach Martin St. Louis challenged the play for goaltender interference and the goal was overturned after the video review confirmed that Derek Stepan had pushed the Montreal netminder.
Carolina finally levelled the score with 3:38 remaining. Pesce intercepted a clearance attempt at the blue line, sent a wrist shot and Fast tapped in the rebound to force overtime.
After a scoreless overtime period, Andersen made saves on Drouin, Christian Dvorak and Josh Anderson, while Kotkaniemi scored the winning shootout goal to seal the win for Carolina, which has won three straight.
Hurricanes goaltender Antti Raanta made an acrobatic save to deny Chris Tierney and went down in pain. Frederik Andersen replaced Raanta to start the second period. Hurricanes defenceman Jalen Chatfield left the game during the second intermission with an upper-body injury. Rod Brind’Amour said following the game that both players were taken out by precautionary measure.
Hurricanes centre Sebastian Aho played in his 500th career game. The 25-year-old recorded 456 points (209 goals, 247 assists) in 500 NHL games, only trailing Ron Francis (569) for most points through their first 500 games in franchise history.
The Canadiens host the New York Rangers on Thursday.
The Hurricanes host the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 7, 2023.
Tristan D'Amours, The Canadian Press