VANCOUVER — Lining up to face Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price in a shootout Wednesday night, Bo Horvat's approach was simple.
"Basically close my eyes and shoot. I’m not thinking too much," the Vancouver Canucks captain said.
"He’s obviously one of the best goaltenders in the world, so I think you just try and pick your spot. And thankfully it went in."
Horvat, who scored two goals and an assist in regulation, beat the all-star goaltender with a shot between the legs to secure the 6-5 victory in the Canucks' home opener.
Regulation saw a wild back-and-forth battle fuelled by Vancouver's power play, which had struggled through the first four games of the season, failing to convert on 15 opportunities with the man advantage.
Despite lacking success, the squad's top power-play unit knew it could change games, said right-winger Brock Boeser.
"We know that we can be difference makers each and every night. We felt we needed to be better, even though we were getting good looks. We just stuck with our game," he said.
The Canucks opened the scoring with a power-play marker 11:07 into the game Wednesday after Montreal's Ben Chiarot was called for holding. J.T. Miller slid a short pass to Horvat who riffled it in past Price.
"When we got one, it just felt like the flood gates were going to open and then we got a few more," said Boeser, who had two goals and an assist on Wednesday. "It was huge to get that going."
Vancouver (2-3-0) capitalized on three-of-six power plays.
Tyler Motte also scored for the Canucks, and Miller notched three assists.
Canadiens (2-0-2) coach Claude Julien said his players spent more time in the penalty box than he would have liked.
"We didn't lose the game because of dumb penalties. We lost it in a shootout," he said. "But at the same time, I've said it many times already: we need to be a little bit more disciplined in those situations because besides maybe (Brett) Kulak's penalty, every other one of them were well deserved and that's on us."
Former Canuck Tyler Toffoli scored a hat trick for Montreal, while Jesper Kotkaniemi had a goal and an assist and Brendan Gallagher scored his first of the year.
Toffoli seemed to have sealed the game for the Habs late in the third. With less than four minutes on the clock, he deflected in a shot by Jeff Petry for his third goal of the game.
The Canucks knew going into the game that the 28-year-old centre was dangerous.
"He’s a pretty lethal shooter. When he gets those opportunities to shoot the puck and to score, he’s going to capitalize on them," Horvat said. "I don’t know what it is about this building, but he loves scoring here."
Toffoli spent the end of last season in Vancouver after the Canucks acquired him from the L.A. Kings at the trade deadline. He had 10 points (six goals, four assists) in 10 regular-season appearances for Vancouver, then signed a four-year deal, at US$4.25-million per season with Montreal in free agency.
He called Wednesday's result a "tough loss," saying it wasn't Montreal's best game as a team.
"I'm not gonna lie, I don't really care who scores the goals, I just want to win games," Toffoli said. "And that's why losing a game like tonight kind of sucks. … We had the opportunities to win and hold on to it, so it's unfortunate."
Canucks goalie Braden Holtby stopped 31 of the 36 shots he faced in regulation and overtime on Wednesday.
Price had 23 saves for the Canadiens, who have yet to be beaten in regulation this season.
Scoring five goals on the 33-year-old netminder is unusual, said Canucks coach Travis Green.
"It’s not often you score that many goals against him. He’s such a good goalie," Green said. "Our power play was a big part of it. And they’ve got good defence, they’re a good team, they defend well right throughout their lineup. To get what we needed to win is the most important thing tonight but that doesn’t happen very often."
Wednesday's game marked the first the Canucks played in Vancouver in 316 days.
Without fans in the stands, players from both sides could be heard vocally disputing the officials' calls and cheering teammates on.
Simulated crowd noise pumped into the arena sounded similar to the background noise in videogames.
Midway through the second period, a video on the big screen over centre ice read "make some noise," challenging the upper bowl to compete with the lower bowl as both sat empty.
Montreal won't have to wait long to seek revenge for the loss — the Canadiens and Canucks will face off again in Vancouver on Thursday.
NOTES: Vancouver defenceman Alex Edler and Travis Hamonic both left with injuries. Green did not provide an update on their conditions after the game. … Canucks defenceman Jalen Chatfield made his NHL debut. The 24-year-old from Ypsilanti, Mich., went undrafted before signing as a free agent with Vancouver in March 2017.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2021.