Lars Eller scored a career-high four goals and added an assist, leading the quick-striking Montreal Canadiens to a 7-3 drubbing of the visiting Winnipeg Jets Wednesday night. The 22-year-old native of Denmark not only blew open a close game with three goals in the third period, but also doubled his goal total for the year on the night.
Travis Moen finished the evening with three assists, and Andrei Kostitsyn and Erik Cole each ended with a pair of helpers, as Montreal stopped a 1-7-0 skid with just its second victory since December 13. Even with the loss, the Jets are still 6-3-1 in their last 10, and remain just one point out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
After Tim Stapleton had given Winnipeg an early lead, Montreal got back even when Josh Gorges sent a shot from the blue line that was headed wide but deflected off of Tobias Enstrom's leg and past Ondrej Pavelec for his second of the year to tie the game at 1-1.
With the Bell Centre crowd still going crazy, the Canadiens would take the lead just 43 seconds later. As Winnipeg appeared to have a fairly easy out of their own zone, defenseman Alexei Emelin forced a turnover at the blue line. The puck kicked over to Eller, who wheeled and fired from the high slot, beating Pavelec for his first goal of the game and fifth of the season to make it a 2-1 Habs lead after one period.
Eller would be involved in the next goal, as well, as he helped poke the puck loose to Moen at center ice. Moen carried it into the Jets' zone, then dished off a backhand feed on the left wing to Tomas Kaberle. The defenseman blew a shot past Pavelec to the long side for his first goal of the season, first goal since being acquired by Montreal, and first goal in 49 games at the 5:32 mark.
After the Habs were unsuccessful on a late second period power play, Winnipeg cashed in on a man advantage opportunity of their own. Blake Wheeler scored his seventh goal of the year, making it a one-goal lead for Les Habitants at 3-2 heading into the third period.
The third would be all Montreal, and the Jets would feel the sting of the quick-strike capabilities early in the stanza. Eller scored a pair to give him his first career hat trick, sandwiched around a Mike Cammalleri tally, all within 50 seconds to give the Canadiens a 6-2 advantage just 3:31 into the frame.
Just past the midway point of the final period, Eller found himself on a breakaway, but was impeded from behind by Winnipeg defender Ron Hainsey. Eller would send the 20,000 strong Habs' supporters into a frenzy on the ensuing penalty shot. As he swung wide to the right on the way in on Pavelec, Eller appeared to be heading to the far side on the forehand to attempt to tuck the puck around the netminder. As Pavelec bit on the move and pushed across the crease to the far post, Eller did a spin-o-rama, and tucked the puck into the vacated side on the backhand for his fourth of the night and eighth of the season to give Montreal a 7-2 lead with nine minutes remaining.
Jets' captain Andrew Ladd closed out the scoring a little over two minutes later with his 13th of the year.
Canadiens' goalie Carey Price stopped 24 of 27 Winnipeg shots to pick up his second win in his last eight decisions.
Montreal still finds themselves in an uphill battle to get themselves in position to make the postseason, but tonight's game will not be soon forgotten by the Habs' faithful -- Eller's four goals, and the team potting two goals in 43 seconds, and scoring another three in just another 50 ticks of the clock.