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Canadiens Game Day: Habs' playoff hopes take another big blow – Montreal Gazette



‘Tomorrow it’s a do-or-die game,’ Ilya Kovalchuk says about Thursday’s game in Philadelphia after a 4-1 loss to Blackhawks at Bell Centre.

“Carey will face the Flyers. They’re a team in our conference. That’s why Lindgren will be in goal tonight.”

That’s how Canadiens coach Claude Julien explained his decision to start Charlie Lindgren in goal against the Chicago Blackhawks Wednesday night at the Bell Centre and save Carey Price for Thursday’s game in Philadelphia against the Flyers (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

Price, the Canadiens’ $84-Million Man, has won his last two starts, while stopping 72 of 73 shots, but Julien decided to go with his backup in the first game of the back-to-back set.

Thursday’s game is now a huge one after a 4-1 loss to Chicago with Lindgren making 24 saves as the Canadiens outshot the Blackhawks 33-28.

The Canadiens now have a 20-21-7 record — including 9-12-4 at home — and trail the Flyers by nine points for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Flyers beat the Blues 4-3 in overtime Wednesday night in St. Louis for a one-two punch to the Habs’ hopes.

“Overall, I think that was our worst game when I’m here, I say for myself,” said Ilya Kovalchuk, who picked up an assist on Phillip Danault’s goal and now has 1-4-5 totals in six games since joining the Canadiens. “It’s unacceptable. Especially we need those points right now so … I’m disappointed.

“Tomorrow it’s a do-or-die game for us because now we’re, I think, nine points behind,” Kovalchuk added. “Tomorrow it’s a huge game. So we just need to regroup a little bit. Like I said, it’s unacceptable the way we played tonight.

The good news for the Canadiens is that the game was officially a sellout of 21,302.

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Bad start for Lindgren

The Blackhawks’ first goal at 5:42 of the first period came short-handed and it was ugly.

Lindgren went behind the net to stop the puck and then there was confusion between the goalie and Tomas Tatar about who would take it.

Neither of them took it and the Blackhawks’ Drake Caggiula happily picked it up and fed Zack Smith in front of an empty net for the goal.

“Just miscommunication,” Lindgren said after the game. “It’s unfortunate just because it’s such a preventable goal. That shouldn’t happen. It sucks that it did and then it puts them up 1-0 and it’s not the way you want to start a hockey game.”

Was it hard for the goalie to refocus after that?

“I’ve let in a lot of goals in my career and a lot of weird goals, too,” Lindgren said. “You just got to kind of forget about it and move on. Obviously, I wasn’t happy right away with it, but take some deep breaths and get back at it.”

Lindgren now has an 0-3-0 record this season with the Canadiens, along with a 3.40 goals-against average and a .892 save percentage.

Costly penalty

The Canadiens’ Max Domi took a really bad roughing penalty at 10:52 of the second period and 35 seconds later Alex DeBrincat scored a power-play goal to put the Blackhawks up 3-1.

Domi was benched for the rest of the period.

“I did what I had to do … simple as that,” Julien said after the game when asked about the benching. “I don’t have to explain it more. It’s not the first time he’s taken a bad penalty. There’s consequences and sometimes those messages go a lot longer than the situation right there.”

The Canadiens got a power play at 15:24 of the second period when Caggiula took a high-sticking penalty, but Domi remained on the bench.

“It doesn’t matter who you put on instead of Max,” Julien said when asked about that decision. “Max is not the guy that’s going to score goals all the time here. The power play is a five-man unit, simple as that.”

The Blackhawks scored the power-play goal after Lindgren had lost his blocker and his stick during a scramble and was playing with a bare left hand.

“During that play my thigh and hip were tightening up, so I was more kind of focused on that,” said Lindgren, who was tended to by a team trainer after the goal. “I knew if I put my hand behind my back that I probably wasn’t going to get hit. But that was kind of a cluster there and I don’t even remember how I lost my blocker and stick there. Everything happened quick, so getting injured wasn’t really on my radar.”

Domi accepts blame

Domi wasn’t looking for excuses after the game when asked about his costly penalty.

“You watch the replay, it’s obviously a penalty,” he said. “But in real time I didn’t realize I had his head. I’d be the first one to tell you that I was trying to gad him or something. There was no interaction. I hit him … hit him again and as I kind of turned around grabbed him a little too high and then pulled him down to the ground. It’s a penalty. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a penalty. But I certainly was not trying to do that.”

Did Julien say anything when he got back to the bench after the power-play goal was scored?

“He didn’t say anything to me,” Domi said. “But when you take a penalty and the team scores you can’t do that. It’s a coach’s decision. You got to respect that, he’s the boss. I was just waiting for my name to  be called and if I had the chance to go back out there I was going to try and do my best to make up for that one.”

Domi got back on the ice in the first minute of the third period.

“Obviously, you want to get that next goal,” he said about his thinking after getting benched. “They played well tonight. They were strong on their sticks, they won a lot of puck battles and they outworked us. I think we just got to find a way here. Got to find a way to stick with it and be better.”

Power play ‘a disaster’

The Canadiens went 0-for-3 on the power play and gave up the short-handed goal. The Canadiens are now 2-for-29 on the power play in their last nine games.

“You have to be sharp on the power play,” Kovalchuk said. “Our power play is a disaster right now. We got to see the puck and be simple. We try to do those cute passes between the sticks, skates, it didn’t work. 

“I can speak for myself, the puck was jumping all over the place,” Kovalchuk added. “Poor decisions by me. You know the coach trusts us that he puts us out there to make a difference and today we didn’t. So we have to regroup and it’s a huge game tomorrow.”

Kovalchuk logged 20:57 of ice time, the most of any Canadiens forward, and finished the game plus-1.

The Hawks’ hometown kid

The Blackhawks’ Corey Crawford, who grew up in Châteauguay on Montreal’s South Shore, became a goalie because of Patrick Roy.

“Patrick Roy is pretty much the reason why I wanted to be a goalie,” Crawford told The Gazette a few years ago in an interview. “He was the man back in the day and I wanted to be like him.”

Crawford certainly plays like Roy when the Blackhawks come to the Bell Centre.

The Howard S. Billings High School graduate made 31 saves Wednesday night for his sixth straight win at the Bell Centre, during which he has an 0.75 goals-against average and a .979 save percentage.

Crawford, who won a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2013, improved his record this season to 8-13-2 with a 3.00 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage.

Armia and Gallagher sit out

Joel Armia and Brendan Gallagher weren’t be in the lineup for the Canadiens against the Blackhawks.

On Tuesday, Armia took part in his first full practice with the team since suffering a hand injury in a 6-2 win over the Jets in Winnipeg on Dec. 23. Armia, who also took part in Wednesday’s optional morning skate, missed his 11th straight game, but there’s a chance he could play Thursday night in Philadelphia.

Gallagher missed his third straight game after suffering from headaches. Gallagher earlier missed four games with a concussion, returned to play in a 4-2 loss to the Oilers on Jan. 9, and then experienced headaches and was shut down again.

“(Gallagher) doesn’t really have a headache right now, but he’s at rest,” Julien said Wednesday morning. “As you know, these things (concussions) can be sometimes hard to diagnose and all I’m gonna say is (the team doctors) don’t think it has anything to do with the first concussion. But is it a bit of a setback? We don’t know that. So all we do know, as an organization and as a medical staff, is that he needs to be rested. We need to make sure that’s taken care of before we put him back into action.

“There’s nothing more to clarify, guys,” Julien added. “It’s unknown. Yes, he’s here … he’s here every day and he’s feeling good, no more headaches. That’s where he’s at, guys, and I can’t tell you more. There’s a lot of unknown when it comes to those kind of things.”

What’s next?

The Canadiens had a flight to Philadelphia after the game and will play the Flyers Thursday night (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM). The Canadiens have a practice scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard and will then face the Vegas Golden Knights Saturday at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., SNE, CITY, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

After that, the Canadiens will have their bye week in the NHL schedule with their next game on Monday, Jan. 27 at the Bell Centre against the Washington Capitals (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).


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Riders outlast Stamps in OT thriller to move on to Western Final –



REGINA — The Saskatchewan Roughriders survived a slugfest of a night to defeat the Calgary Stampeders 33-30 to advance to the Western Final.

Cody Fajardo survived a four-interception night and Brett Lauther hit a 34-yard field goal to put the game away, as the Riders advance to their second consecutive Western Final. They’ll face the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at IG Field on Dec. 5, to battle for a berth in the 108th Grey Cup.

Bo Levi Mitchell made 24-32 passes for 285 yards, had zero touchdowns and two interceptions.

» Boxscore: Stamps, Riders by the numbers
» Though the Lens: Western Semi-Final photos
» Watch: Riders’ onside kick leads to a TD to begin second half

The Riders got the game going with a bit of an emotional roller coaster.

Jamal Morrow thought he had a missed field goal return touchdown, but found out that his 124-yard trip to the end zone was wiped out by an illegal block. That moved Saskatchewan back to its own five-yard line. Two plays later, Fajardo was intercepted by Jonathan Moxey. One Mitchell handoff to Ka’Deem Carey later, the Stamps’ running back had trucked five yards into the end zone to give Calgary the lead. Rene Paredes‘ convert made it a 7-0 game at 7:02.

The half quickly settled into a defensive battle, with Moxey pulling in a team-record-tying three interceptions before halftime. Ed Gainey got the best of Mitchell twice, with a pair of interceptions. While the potential was there for big plays on each turnover, including a Calgary turnover on downs, neither offence was able to capitalize the way they wanted to.

After a Brett Lauther chip shot 16-yard field goal, the Riders got a breakthrough on special teams. Returner Jamal Morrow took a Cody Grace punt back 69 yards for the touchdown, putting the Riders in front for the first time in the game. Rene Paredes‘ convert made it a 10-7 Riders lead at 7:26 of the second quarter.

Paredes had an out-of-character first half, missing field goals to open and close out the half. The teams got into a skirmish on the way to their locker rooms and it ended up carrying grave consequences for Calgary, as veteran d-lineman Shawn Lemon was disqualified from the game for what officials deemed as rough play.

Off the penalty on the Lemon ejection, the Riders executed a perfect onside kick from Calgary’s 50-yard line, with A.C. Leonard pulling the ball in. Fajardo quickly found Kian Schaffer-Baker three plays later for a six-yard touchdown pass. Lauther was back out on the field at 1:49 to kick the convert through to give the Riders a 17-8 lead.

A Paredes field goal from 27-yards out at 5:36 of the third made it a six-point Calgary deficit, but even that little bit of momentum came with a price, as the team lost receiver Colton Hunchak to a leg injury. The Stamps survived another turnover when Reggie Begelton had a punt bounce off his chest and scuttle away from him, into the Riders hands. Calgary’s defence didn’t allow points on the ensuing drive and Paredes added another field goal, this one from 25-yards, to make it a three-point game at the end of three quarters.

Lauther doubled his team’s lead with a 24-yard field goal at 1:46 of the fourth quarter, but the Stamps engineered a quick, six-play drive up the field. On second-and-one, Mitchell handed off to Carey for the fourth time on the drive, as he launched himself overtop of the trenches, where he might have seen the Riders’ d-line go offside under him. His second touchdown of the game tied it at 20 and Paredes’ convert gave the Stamps a 21-20 lead at 5:39.

Calgary seized ahold of the momentum at the midpoint of the quarter when Jameer Thurman lunged in front of a Fajardo pass and pulled in the defence’s fourth interception of the night, setting up Mitchell and the offence at the Riders’ 47-yard line. The Stamps settled for a field goal on the play and Paredes delivered from 47-yards to put his team up 24-20 with just over five minutes left to play.

Undeterred, Fajardo led the Riders down to Calgary’s one-yard line. After a couple of handoffs to William Powell were stuffed, Fajardo kept the ball and powered his way into the end zone. Lauther’s convert gave the Riders a three-point edge with 2:23 left on the clock.

With his team taking a punch, Mitchell wound up for a responsoe of his own, but could only get the Stamps to the Riders’ 39-yard line after Mitchell was sacked for a loss on second-down. Paredes coolly lined up a 47-yard field goal that sailed through the uprights with 37 seconds left to tie it up 27-all.

In overtime, Schaffer-Baker wasn’t able to hold onto a ball that required a tightrope act on the baseline of the end zone. Lauther’s 20-yard field goal put the Riders up three.

With the pressure of the Mosaic crowd rooting against him, Mitchell led a varied drive against the Riders, looking end zone on his first pass, then working Carey into the mix on the ground. Carey was stopped on the 17-yard line, which brought Paredes out for a 24-yard attempt that knotted the game at 30-30.

In the second OT, the Stamps survived a near-fumble from rookie receiver Luther Hakunavanhu and had to call upon Paredes once again. His 44-yarder went wide left, his third miss of the night. Morrow ran the ball out of the end zone and opened the door for a Riders’ victory.

After a pair of handoffs, Lauther made his way onto the field for a 34-yard attempt. Mosaic fell dead silent as Lauther lined it up and exploded in celebration as he hit the field goal.

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With Bergevin era over, Canadiens tap Jeff Gorton to oversee 'new vision' –



MONTREAL — It was a seismic shift happening right under Marc Bergevin’s feet, and under his nose too.

He knew the end of his tenure with the Montreal Canadiens was nearing. He understood that, in failing to secure a contract extension prior to the start of the season, his days as general manager were likely numbered, and he had come to terms with that reality as he watched the team that got to last summer’s Stanley Cup Final flounder towards the worst start in its 111-year history.

But Bergevin didn’t expect the cracks to form as quickly as they did on Saturday, and on Sunday he — along with assistant general manager Trevor Timmins and executive VP of public affairs and communications Paul Wilson — was pushed through them.

In a release appearing on the Canadiens’ website at 3:09 p.m. ET., the announcement came that all three had been relieved of their functions effective immediately.

Timmins had been with the team for nearly two decades, overseeing the draft for all of that time and serving as AGM since 2017. Wilson had taken on his role in 2018 after working with the Canadiens for several years as a partner in NATIONAL Public Relations. And Bergevin was brought on to lead the team he grew up cheering for nine years, six months and 26 days ago.

Jeff Gorton’s appointment as executive VP of hockey operations on Sunday marked the end for all three men in Montreal.

Just prior to Saturday’s 6-3 win for the Canadiens over the Pittsburgh Penguins, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported team owner Geoff Molson had obtained permission to speak the former New York Rangers GM and, according to a report from TVA’s Louis Jean later in the evening, that was news to Bergevin.

He had recommended long-time assistant GM Scott Mellanby for the position and both he and Mellanby were under the impression Molson was keen on moving in that direction.

But what quickly became clear to both men on Saturday evening was that the Canadiens’ owner had decided on another route.

Mellanby resigned 15 minutes into the first period of the Pittsburgh game and, as the night progressed, it became obvious Bergevin’s fate hung in the balance.

Sources informed us changes were en route as early as Sunday, and they came in the afternoon.

“On behalf of myself and the organization, I wish to thank Marc Bergevin, Trevor Timmins, and Paul Wilson for their passion and engagement towards our club over the last years,” read Molson’s statement. “Their relentless work allowed our fans to experience many memorable moments, including last summer’s playoff run that culminated with the Stanley Cup Final. We wish them all the success they deserve in the pursuit of their careers.

“I think, however, that the time has come for a leadership change within our hockey operations department that will bring a new vision and should allow our fans and partners to continue cheering for a championship team.”

The Canadiens haven’t been one since 1993, and they appear far off from becoming one — sitting in 29th place in the NHL, with just six wins in 23 games of what’s assuredly a lost season.

But Gorton’s job will be to oversee their revival, beginning with the task of recruiting — and eventually hiring — a bilingual general manager who will “bring significant hockey experience to the organization,” according to Molson.

The 53-year-old made his start in the NHL as a scout with the Boston Bruins in 1992. He then worked his way up to assistant general manager and was eventually promoted to interim GM after Mike O’Connell was fired in 2006.

Within a span of days, Gorton oversaw what’s widely considered the greatest draft haul in Bruins history — plucking out Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchard and trading Andrew Raycroft for Tuukka Rask — and made waves when he signed Marc Savard and Zdeno Chara as free agents.

It was then that he caught the attention of one of the shrewdest executives in hockey history, Glen Sather, who ended up hiring Gorton to work for the Rangers immediately after he left the Bruins in 2007.

“The first time I really had anything to do with him was we tried to sign Chara in New York,” Sather told Sportsnet on Sunday. “Jeff got the inside track on him and got him to Boston, and I was left surprised at what happened.”

Sather was impressed, too.

He later brought Gorton on as a pro scout with the Rangers and quickly promoted him to assistant GM. And in July of 2015, Sather named Gorton his replacement as Rangers GM.

Despite firing his protégé from that position in May of 2021 — a move most believe Rangers owner James Dolan demanded — the 78-year-old senior advisor still believes he’s uniquely qualified for the challenge in Montreal.

“I’m not going to explain what happened (in New York),” said Sather, “but what I will say is he’s a good man and I’m very glad he got the job.

“He communicates well with the people that work with him. He treats them well and has a lot of respect for them. He’s an interesting guy. He’s very respectful, very smart, and he’s good with the numbers. He’ll do a good job in Montreal.”

A rival executive we touched base with texted, “Jeff is bright. Very bright. Thoughtful, always has a plan.”

“Jeff takes his time, takes emotion out of it, does the right thing,” the exec continued. “He’s quiet. Doesn’t love attention or media.”

Gorton’s predecessor wasn’t a big fan of that, either, but mused in his final statement as GM on Sunday, “I would never have thought, in my life, that I would be getting more visibility than the Premier (of Quebec).”

Where Bergevin and Gorton diverge is on emotional detachment. Bergevin wore his emotions on his bulging biceps throughout his time in Montreal, and they got the better of him in some negotiations that went awry but also served him well in building strong relationships with nearly everyone around him.

The team was quite successful under the 56-year-old’s watch over the first five years, making the playoffs four times and earning him nominations for GM of the Year on two occasions. But it went through major turmoil from early 2017 through the spring of 2018 and left him hanging on by a thread.

It was then that Bergevin presented a plan to reset the roster, earning Molson’s endorsement and what was expected to be job security through the end of this season.

The work done since then was commendable. Last year, with cap space to burn and the economic conditions brought on the pandemic creating an opportunity for Bergevin to strike, it earned him the most first-place votes for the 2021 Jim Gregory Award, which eventually went to New York Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello.

It was arguably Bergevin’s finest work as Canadiens GM. He traded for and signed Jake Allen to play behind Carey Price, traded for defenceman Joel Edmundson and forward Josh Anderson and signed both to long-term contracts, extended long-time Canadiens Jeff Petry and Brendan Gallagher, brought in free agents Tyler Toffoli, Michael Frolik and Corey Perry, and completed the roster by adding in Eric Staal, Jon Merrill and Erik Gustafsson prior to the trade deadline — all moves that, as he put it, “allowed us to get closer to the ultimate objective.”

“But we fell short of hoisting the Holy Grail,” Bergevin continued. “Despite this, I am proud of what we achieved as an organization. I sincerely hope this objective will be achieved sooner than later.

“Montreal is the city where I took my first skating strides and it’s also the city where I learned to lead the NHL’s winningest franchise. This city and this organization will always have a special place in my heart.”

Bergevin knew the clock was ticking on his time here but didn’t know it would run out as quickly as it did over the weekend.

Timmins was “completely shocked,” he said, when the phone rang on Sunday and Molson was on the line.

“I spent 10 years with Ottawa and 20 with Montreal and I’ve never been fired from a job in my life,” he told Sportsnet on Sunday night.

His hard work on the draft was often interfered with both by Bergevin and previous general managers who made executive decisions on the floor, and it was at least partially undone by flawed development practices that plagued the organization for years.

In the end, whatever good discoveries the 53-year-old made in beyond the first round — and there were many over the years — were offset by first-round misses.

Still, Timmins selected Cole Caufield there, 15th overall in 2019, and drafted Kaiden Guhle 16th overall in 2020, and both decisions have been widely praised. He also made several other quality picks over those years that will likely have a more positive influence on how his time with the organization will ultimately be evaluated.

Timmins’ dismissal, however, comes just months after selecting a player who asked not to be drafted in 2021.

Bergevin authorizing the decision to take Logan Mailloux with the 31st pick after the player was charged in Sweden for violating a woman’s privacy and distributing a photo of her engaged in a consensual sexual act with him, left Molson apologizing days later.

It was a PR disaster overseen by Wilson. The removal of him, Timmins and Bergevin from the organization on Sunday at least suggests Molson isn’t over it.

The owner will surely be asked about that when he meets with the media on Monday for the first time this season.

Meanwhile, Molson acknowledged — days after Mailloux was drafted — that he was aware of the decision being made and grossly underestimated how it would be received.

“It was an error in judgment,” Molson said.

It was one of many that’s been made with him at the top of the hockey operations org chart, and perhaps one that made him realize it was time to put someone of Gorton’s experience in place.

With the Canadiens likely earning a top-10 pick in the 2022 Draft, which is being held in Montreal, Gorton will lend his strong background in amateur scouting to the process.

He’ll also help ring in a new era by bringing along what’s likely to be a rookie GM and, as Sather put it, “he’ll surround that person with great people.”

“He knows everybody in hockey,” Sather added. “He’s going to find the right guy.”

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Canadiens fire GM Marc Bergevin, assistant GM Trevor Timmins; hire former Rangers GM Jeff Gorton –



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After their most successful season in nearly 30 years, the Montreal Canadiens are off to a rough start to the 2021-22 season. Through 23 games, Montreal has just 14 points — tied for fifth-fewest in the league — with a 6-14-2 record. The team’s minus-29 goal differential is the worst in the Eastern Conference and second-worst in the NHL. The poor start has now led to a massive shake-up in the front office.

The club announced Sunday that that General Manager Marc Bergevin, Assistant GM Trevor Timmins, and communications chief Paul Wilson have all been let go, effective immediately. In a release, club owner Geoff Molson thanked the trio for their time in Montreal and their efforts during last year’s Stanley Cup Final run. 

“On behalf of myself and the organization, I wish to thank Marc Bergevin, Trevor Timmins, and Paul Wilson for their passion and engagement towards our Club over the last years. Their relentless work allowed our fans to experience many memorable moments, including last summer’s playoff run that culminated with the Stanley Cup Final. We wish them all the success they deserve in the pursuit of their careers. I think, however, that the time has come for a leadership change within our hockey operations department that will bring a new vision and should allow our fans and partners to continue cheering for a championship team.”  

The Canadiens also announced that former New York Rangers GM Jeff Gorton will run day-to-day hockey operations under the title of Executive Vice President, Hockey Operations.

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