Canadiens strike early to inflict rare regulation home loss on Canucks

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Carey Price's previous trip to Vancouver ended with a sore hand. This time, the Montreal Canadiens goalie left with a souvenir puck.

Playing in front of at least 50 family members and friends, the B.C. native made 12 of his 37 saves in the third period, and the Canadiens snapped a decade-long losing streak in Vancouver with a 3-2 win over the Canucks on Tuesday night.

It was a decided improvement over Price's previous trip to his home province early last season, which ended with him getting pulled after giving up seven goals. He then punched a hole in the wall of the visiting locker room.

The season before that, with even more supporters in attendance, Price sat out behind Jaroslav Halak before getting a token appearance in the third period of another one-sided loss.

"I put a lot of mental preparation into this one," Price said. "I remember last year and not getting the opportunity to play before that, and it really meant a lot to me coming in here. I think everyone in this locker room realized that and really battled for me."

Canadiens defenseman Paul Mara made sure to grab the puck after the final buzzer and present it to Price after he was mobbed by his teammates.

"I really wanted that puck. That was the only one I've wanted all year," Price said. "I've watched the Canucks my whole life, being from B.C., and getting an opportunity to play against them and actually win here is pretty special."

David Desharnais and Brian Gionta scored 67 seconds apart early in the first period. Andrei Kostitsyn scored the winning goal against the flow of play midway through the second, ending a 12-game drought despite being demoted to the fourth line. And Price made a handful of game-saving stops in the third as Montreal won in Western Canada for the first time in three years and the fifth time in 30 visits.

"It was nice to get it here for Carey," defenseman Hal Gill said.

Coming off a 4-0 loss in the outdoor Heritage Classic at Calgary on Sunday and with only one win in seven games (1-4-2), the Canadiens switched all four forward lines and stressed defensive play. It paid off as they roared to a 14-1 shot advantage in the first 10 minutes in a building in which they had lost seven straight, dating to November 2000.

Montreal got goals from three lines, with Desharnais opening the scoring on a breakaway 6:07 in. Gionta doubled the lead just more than a minute later on a rebound of P.K. Subban's point shot.

"Obviously things had gotten stale," Gionta said of the shake-up.

Mikael Samuelsson and Henrik Sedin scored power-play goals, and Roberto Luongo made 22 saves as the Canucks lost at home in regulation for the fifth time this season (21-5-5). Vancouver's lead atop the NHL is down to one point over Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia and five ahead of Detroit in the West.

"We knew we were going to meet a team that was on edge, and they proved it the first 10 minutes," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "They threw everything they had at us. They were first on the puck. They completely controlled the game."

Vancouver closed the shot gap with two straight chances for its No. 1-ranked power play in the first period, and Price gave the team another advantage three minutes into the second by shooting the puck over the glass.

Sedin scored through Ryan Kesler's screen 20 seconds later, and by the midway point of the second period, the Canucks had a 23-17 shot advantage -- and a 22-3 edge over 20 minutes -- before Kostitsyn made it 3-1 on the Canadiens' fourth shot.

Montreal killed a 37-second, 5-on-3 to end the second period, but Samuelsson closed the gap with another power-play goal through Kesler's screen 1:06 into the third. The Canucks kept pressing, but Price made his best save, a blocker stop on Alex Burrows' tip, with two minutes left.

"For whatever reason, our battle level wasn't there," Kesler said of the early 2-0 deficit. "After that 10 minutes, I thought we dominated the game, but you've got to give it to their goalie."

Game notes
Daniel Sedin had an assist, giving him 78 points, three more than Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos for the NHL scoring lead. ... Both teams were missing three regular defensemen, but the Canucks got Dan Hamhuis back from a concussion that kept him out five games. Keith Ballard returned after missing six with a sprained knee. ... Actor Tom Cruise, in town filming a "Mission Impossible" movie, watched the game from the Canucks' management box. ... Scott Gomez's assist on Gionta's goal was his 500th.