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Canadiens stave off late Oilers rally to exit Edmonton with victory

Josh Anderson scored twice as the Montreal Canadiens survived a late Edmonton flurry to defeat the Oilers 4-3 on Wednesday night.

Tyler Toffoli and Artturi Lehkonen had the other goals for Montreal (20-15-9). Jake Allen made 22 saves as the Canadiens picked up just their third win in the last nine games to move eight points clear of the Calgary Flames for the North Division’s fourth and final playoff spot. Jeff Petry and Tomas Tatar had two assists each.

Connor McDavid, with a goal and two assists, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jesse Puljujarvi replied for Edmonton (27-16-2), which got 27 stops from Mike Smith. The Oilers, who beat Montreal 4-1 on Monday and had won eight straight at home, missed a chance to leapfrog the Winnipeg Jets for second in the standings.

The Canadiens were minus No. 1 goalie Carey Price (concussion) after he got bumped up high by Edmonton’s Alex Chiasson in Monday’s first period. The former Hart and Vezina trophy winner, who will be out at least a week, had just returned to Montreal’s lineup Saturday following a six-game absence with a lower-body injury.

The Oilers, meanwhile, got a boost with the return of Nugent-Hopkins after the forward missed four contests with an upper-body ailment.

McDavid tied the game 1-1 with his 25th goal of the season when the NHL’s scoring leader took a stretch pass from Caleb Jones off a Montreal turnover before moving in alone and beating Allen upstairs at 3:09 of the second period.

But Anderson, who said following the morning skate it was time for his team to start playing playoff hockey with 13 games left on their schedule, responded just 11 seconds later when he bullied his way past Adam Larsson and snapped his 16th shortside on Smith.

The Oilers’ power play went to work later in the period, but continued to struggle against the Canadiens, who had killed 22-of-24 penalties against Edmonton coming into Wednesday.

Montreal, which entered 2-6-0 over its last eight and had scored just 12 times since losing heart-and-soul winger Brendan Gallagher to a broken thumb April 5, led Monday’s contest 1-0 with 10 minutes left in regulation before the home side exploded with four goals — sparked by McDavid’s three points — to turn the tide late.

There wouldn’t be a repeat 48 hours later as the Canadiens’ struggling power play finally connected at 8:10 of the third when Toffoli jumped on a Josh Archibald turnover that went off Smith and right to the Montreal sniper for him to bury his 22nd, snapping a 3-for-35 run with the man advantage.

Anderson then put things out of reach with 4:47 remaining when he backhanded his 17th on a sequence that stood after a coach’s challenge for goalie interference on Smith.

Oilers’ comeback falls short

Nugent-Hopkins scored his 13th on a power play with 2:12 left and Smith on the bench for an extra attacker, and Puljujarvi scored another one late, but Montreal held on.

Having scored just 18 combined goals during a 3-7-0 stretch coming into Wednesday, the Canadiens were the better team in the first and got their reward late in the period. Jesperi Kotkaniemi moved into the Edmonton zone and delayed before finding a hard-charging Lehkonen, who made a nice backhand move to beat Smith from in tight with 28.9 seconds left on the clock to score his fourth, and first in 11 games.

The opening 20 minutes had a similar feel to Monday’s physical start as the teams combined for 43 hits. Things actually got heated in warmups when Anderson had a brief chat with Chiasson at centre — the topic was no doubt retribution for Price’s injury — before Edmonton’s Zack Kassian joined the conversation.

Chiasson dropped the gloves with Corey Perry once the action started in a short tussle. Kassian then went to hit Canadiens captain Shea Weber, but appeared to injure his left leg, was helped to the locker room and didn’t return.

Puljajarvi, who had a goal and an assist Monday, tested Allen with a sizzling shot moments later, and Kotkaniemi forced a nice save out of Smith at the other end on a redirection before the Canadiens broke through late in the period.

The Canadiens now head south to Calgary where they’ll play three crucial games against the Flames. The Oilers don’t suit up again until Monday — another long break after playing just 11 times in 32 days because of various scheduling changes related to the pandemic — when they visit the Jets for the first of two in Winnipeg.

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