Canadiens’ David Desharnais is congratulated by teammates after scoring the first goal of the game against the Panthers Sunday in Sunrise, Fla.
Photograph by: Joel Auerbach, Getty Images
SUNRISE, Fla. — There probably wasn’t a single defining moment in the Canadiens’ 5-2 victory over the Florida Panthers on Sunday night.
You could choose Michael Ryder’s two goals, delicate tips of P.K. Subban snaps from outside. Maybe David Desharnais’s game-opening goal, a rocket whose echo off the iron is still bouncing around the BB&T Centre.
Popular Francis Bouillon’s first goal of the season, or Brian Gionta scoring in his 200th game wearing a Canadiens uniform, or goalie Peter Budaj’s fourth win of the season.
But perhaps the moment that stood out most to the boys on the bench was sandpaper forward Ryan White offering his face as a punching bag to Florida’s Nolan Yonkman, taking punch after punch to his mug without so much as hinting he’d fight back.
White’s supreme discipline earned his team a four-minute power-play deep in the first period, carrying over into the second.
The Canadiens didn’t cash in, but White’s turning the other cheek was a remarkable sight given his recent history.
“It’s getting to that time of the year, it’s playoff hockey,” White would say with his gap-toothed grin, a little crestfallen in his snappy suit when at first there wasn’t a camera on the interview scene.
“I knew (Yonkman) was coming, I was just trying to do my job and create some turnovers on the forecheck. I tried to stay disciplined and get us a power play, and it worked out all right.”
Yonkman, all 6-foot-6 and 253 pounds of him, was assessed two minutes for slashing and two more for roughing. It was déjà-vu for White, who in Ottawa on Jan. 30 drew a costly double minor, was scratched for three games, then came back to Buffalo only to be suckered into another four-minute penalty.
It was four more games in head coach Michel Therrien’s doghouse before he emerged, playing 10 more before being scratched Saturday in Tampa.
Forward Brandon Prust’s injury in that game gave White another chance Sunday and he acquitted himself well, going 67 per cent on faceoffs in 13:37 with a hit, a takeaway and a blocked shot.
White admitted it was “a little” hard, not throwing a punch or two back, though he admitted: “Yonks is a pretty big dude and you don’t want to get tangled up with him too often.”
Players back on the bench congratulated him for his poise, and he earned a nod of respect from Therrien.
Ryder, meanwhile, has warmed up dramatically in recent days, with two goals and seven assists in his past five games after going without a point in his first two since being reacquired in the trade for Erik Cole.
“There were a couple (Subban) shots going through that I managed to get my stick on,” Ryder said of his deflected goals Sunday. “It took me a while to get adjusted (to the Canadiens) and I’ve been on the road for a long time, first with Dallas, now here.
“But on this trip, I’ve gotten to know the guys a lot more and I’m getting used to the system and I’m more comfortable with it on the ice.
“I was a little hesitant the first couple games, thinking what to do. But the last few, I’ve just gone out and tried to be aggressive. Once you know the system, it’s a lot easier. You do less thinking and just play your game.”
With assists on both of Ryder’s goals and another on Gionta’s, Subban improved his point total to 18, with six goals and a dozen assists in 20 games.
“This trip generated a lot of momentum for our club, and it’s up to us to keep that going,” Subban said. “The leaders on this club are doing a great job of keeping us ready to play every night. We want to be a playoff team, a contender, and we have to show up every night to do that.”
Subban played a team-high 24:42 and said that, regardless of his ice time, his goal is simply to do his job the time he’s on the rink.
“This trip’s been great,” he said. “I’m happy to see the guys come through and come together. I knew this would be a big trip for us, big points.”
If Bouillon was happy with his goal at the Panthers’ end of the ice, he probably was less thrilled when he spoiled Budaj’s shutout by whipping a shot behind his own goalie eight minutes into the third period on a botched clearing attempt.
“He blocked many shots before and saved my butt many times. It’s not a big deal, those things happen,” a forgiving Budaj said of Bouillon.
“We can laugh about it now because we won the game. We’ll probably make some jokes about it.”
Indeed, there were no long faces at the end of this excellent road trip, the Canadiens returning home Monday to a well-earned day off.
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