John Gibson knew his Anaheim Ducks had every right to be exhausted late in their third game in three cities over four nights. The 21-year-old goalie also recognized the high stakes for Anaheim against the Montreal Canadiens.
So Gibson put the weary Ducks on his shoulders for yet another victory — and he even outplayed Carey Price to do it.
Gibson made 37 saves, and Anaheim moved back atop the overall NHL standings with a 3-1 victory Wednesday night in a meeting of conference leaders.
Francois Beauchemin and Rickard Rakell scored for Anaheim (42-17-7), which has won four straight games and seven of eight overall. At a difficult point in a crowded schedule, Gibson and the Ducks managed to shut down the Eastern Conference’s top team to open a two-point lead over Nashville and a four-point margin over Montreal in the race for all three franchises’ first Presidents’ Trophy.
"We knew this was a big game," said Gibson, who barely missed his first shutout since Oct. 28. "We knew it was a battle for first place in the league. We pay attention to that stuff."
Cam Fowler added a short-handed, empty-net goal with 2:02 to play before Alex Galchenyuk ruined Gibson’s shutout bid on a power-play goal with 1:41 left.
Montreal has begun its four-game West Coast trip by getting trounced twice in California, following up Monday’s 4-0 loss at San Jose with another frustrating night. Canadiens coach Michel Therrien still wasn’t discouraged.
"I liked the way we played," Therrien said. "We competed hard. (Anaheim) is an elite team, but we got some quality scoring chances. The difference tonight was their goalie. He was phenomenal."
Price stopped 30 shots, but lost consecutive games for the first time since Jan. 6-10. The star goalie hadn’t lost two straight games in regulation since Dec. 5-6 during his incredible season for the Canadiens.
"I don’t think we’re losing momentum," Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban said. "We did enough to win this hockey game. It just didn’t bounce our way today."
Gibson barely missed his first shutout since Oct. 28, adding another strong outing to his late-season run in the Ducks’ net. After an early-season injury, Gibson spent much of this winter in the AHL before returning to Anaheim when starter Frederik Andersen was injured last month.
New Anaheim forward Jiri Sekac had an assist in a strong game against the Canadiens, who traded him to the Ducks last week for Devante Smith-Pelly.
The Czech forward says he prefers the Ducks’ aggressive strategies to Montreal’s defensive schemes, and he made a big hit on Subban shortly before linemate Rakell’s goal in the second period.
"I’m not going to lie, it’s a pretty good feeling, and I’m very happy that we beat the Habs," said Sekac, who has three assists in five games with Anaheim. "Nothing gets better than beating a team you used to play for."
Smith-Pelly had a quieter night against the Ducks, who drafted him in 2010. He is scoreless in four games for Montreal.
Newly acquired forwards Torrey Mitchell and Brian Flynn debuted for the Canadiens, but both were on the ice for Anaheim’s first two goals.
Beauchemin put the Ducks ahead in the opening minutes with an uncharacteristic goal off the rush, gathering a pass from Kyle Palmieri and beating Price to the far top corner. The goal was Beauchemin’s eighth, tying his career high, and his fifth in 11 games.
The Canadiens controlled long stretches and had 20 shots early in the second period, but Anaheim doubled its lead when Sekac hit Subban on the glass and extended a sequence that led to Rakell’s sixth goal.
NOTES:New Ducks D James Wisniewski arrived in Orange County before the game, but the veteran is still out with a bone bruise in his foot, delaying his season debut in Anaheim’s lineup until at least next week. … Montreal C Manny Malhotra and RW P.A. Parenteau were healthy scratches. … Tomas Fleischmann and Simon Despres played in their second games for Anaheim, which made six trades near the deadline — including four on deadline day.