MONTREAL — The Bell Centre rarely cheers for an away goal, but Monday night was different.
Making his first trip back to Montreal since being traded to the Avalanche last March, Arrtturi Lehkonen scored twice, registering his 99th and 100th regular-season NHL goals as Colorado took a decisive 8-4 win over the Canadiens.
The Finnish forward buried a shot midway through the first period, moments after a video tribute showing his time in Montreal played on the big screen.
Canadiens fans erupted in response.
“Everybody loves him. He's such an awesome dude and a great friend,” Avs defenceman Cale Makar said of Lehkonen. “I don't know if I've ever heard a fan base cheer for one guy on another team when he scores. So that was a pretty cool experience.”
Lehkonen was also credited with the first goal of the game after he redirected Logan O’Connor’s wrist shot from the point.
“One hundred goals for him, that's a big accolade to have," O'Connor said. "Two (goals) in front of the net tonight, coming back to Montreal for the first time, it’s definitely a special night for him so it's awesome to see.”
Lehkonen’s evening came to a bitter end midway when he left 12:57 into the second period.
Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said the forward broke a finger while taking a shot to the hand.
“He'll leave (Tuesday) from Toronto to head back and then follow up with surgery the next day,” Bednar said.
Losing Lehkonen is tough, but the coach was happy with how his team played on Monday.
Valeri Nichushkinhad a goal and two assists for Colorado (36-22-6), while Bowen Byram, Matt Nieto, Mikko Rantanen, J.T. Compher and Nathan MacKinnon also scored. Makar collected three assists and Alexandar Georgiev made 15 saves.
“I thought the pace that we played with in the first period and the execution was phenomenal,” Bednar said. “Not that we created a ton of chances but the chances that we did create were good ones and our guys did a nice job capitalizing on some nice moves and some good shots."
Josh Anderson had a goal and an assist, while Denis Gurianov, Jesse Ylonen and Mike Matheson scored as Montreal (26-35-6) slipped to a seven-game winless skid. Nick Suzuki added two assists.
Jake Allen allowed six goals on 15 shots before being pulled in the second period. Sam Montembeault made 16 saves in relief.
“I think our group has played very hard in a very hard, heavy schedule and they’ve been engaged,” said Habs coach Martin St. Louis. “Tonight wasn’t our best but I’m just going to move on and focus on (Tuesday’s game against Pittsburgh).”
The defending Stanley Cup champions took a four-goal lead from their first eight shots of the night.
Lehkonen redirected in O’Connor’s wrist shot from the blue line beat Allen 2:59 into the game.
Byram easily made his way around Kaiden Guhle and found the Avalanche’s second of the game 6:09 into the opening frame.
Nieto pierced through Montreal’s defence, waited for Allen to make the first move and beat the netminder less than two minutes later. Former Hab Lars Eller collected his first Avalanche point on the goal.
Lehkonen made it 4-0 with his second of the night on a power play 16:00 into the first.
Montreal saved their honour with a late first-period goal. Anderson deflected a shot from Jonathan Kovacevic for his 20th goal of the season.
“The good thing about the first is we stopped the bleeding at the end,” St. Louis said. “We got a late one, it gave us a little life and we showed them a couple of things that can help us and why we were hurting ourselves.”
Colorado got right back to their scoring ways 2:48 into the second when Rantanen hopped on Allen’s rebound to tap in his 43rd of the campaign.
Compher took a page out of his teammate’s book and also capitalized a rebound, giving Colorado a five-goal advantage. St. Louis pulled Allen for Montembeault following the goal.
Gurianov scored his second goal in as many games with a wrister from the right faceoff circle on the power play late in the second period.
Colorado found a seventh goal when MacKinnon drove the puck from his own blue line to score a power-play marker at 8:09 of the final frame.
Ylonen and Matheson scored with wrist shots from the blue line just under two minutes apart in the third, shaving Montreal’s deficit to three goals.
Nichushkin shut down Montreal’s comeback attempt with the Avs’ eighth goal by redirecting Makar’s shot on the power play.
Canadiens forward Rem Pitlick awkwardly fell into the board while rushing for the puck behind Colorado’s net. The Canadiens announced that Pitlick would not return to the game at the start of the second period, but he's expected to travel with the team to Pittsburgh.
The Canadiens travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins on Tuesday.
The Avalanche visit the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 13, 2023.
Tristan D’Amours, The Canadian Press