MONTREAL â€” The biggest Bell Centre ovation on Tuesday night was not for Carey Price’s brilliance in net, Brendan Gallagher’s game-winning goal or the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 win over the Dallas Stars, but for an assist by veteran defenceman Andrei Markov.
By flipping a pass to Artturi Lehkonen for a one-timer that beat Kari Lehtonen, Markov moved into a tie with Hall of Famer Guy Lapointe for second in career points by a Montreal Canadiens defenceman with 572, behind only Larry Robinson’s 833.
When the assist was announced, the sellout crowd rose and applauded the Russian rearguard who has been a stalwart on the Montreal defence since 2000-01.
“I couldn’t think of a guy that’s more deserving,” said captain Max Pacioretty. “In the years I’ve played with him, he’s overcome so much adversity.
“I’m so happy for him. He’s probably the best player I’ve played with.”
Alexander Radulov also scored for Montreal (43-24-9), which won a second game in a row.
Curtis McKenzie scored for Dallas (31-34-11), which ended a four-game points streak. The Stars played their first game since learning they had been eliminated from playoff contention.
The game was not a classic, although Price and Lehtonen each needed to make a handful of excellent saves to keep the game close until Montreal broke it open with three third-period goals. Montreal outshot the Stars 36-28.
Even the much-anticipated Benn vs. Benn matchup turned out to be a snooze, as the Stars’ Jamie Benn and Montreal defenceman Jordie Benn were only on the ice at the same time for a few brief moments in their first-ever game against one another. The longest stretch was during a third-period Dallas power play.
“I skated by him on the bench once and punched him in the glove, but that’s as close as I got to him,” Jamie Benn said. “Losing is not fun, but playing against him was pretty fun.
“Not sure if we even had a shift together, but he looks good in the red and blue. We’ll probably remember that one for a while.”
The Stars dominated the opening minutes, outshooting Montreal 6-0, and got the first goal at 1:47 when McKenzie picked off a pass, fired a shot off the end glass and put the rebound into an open side.
It took Montreal until 15:49 of the second frame to tie the score as Pacioretty took a feed from Phillip Danault and saw his backhand shot trickle through Lehtonen’s equipment for his 34th of the season.
A puck bounced past Stephen Johns at the point and Gallagher was able to break down the left side and beat Lehtonen with a high wrist shot inside the near post to put Montreal ahead 3:31 into the third.
Lehkonen wired an off-wing shot inside the far post from distance at 13:02 on the kind of clever, space-opening pass Markov is known for.
“He’s just got such a good mind for the game,” Pacioretty said of Markov. “The little techniques of how he holds his stick in certain situations, the passes he makes.
“I said I never want him to retire because that’s at least 10 goals a year. I think a lot of the left shots feel the same way because he’s always finding us on the off wing. There’s no one better at it.”
Claude Julien remembers Markov from his first stint as Canadiens coach from 2003 to 2006 and said he hasn’t changed much.
“Like me, he had a lot more hair then,” said Julien. “But he’s the same player.
“He prepares well and he takes his job to heart. He’s a really good example to our young players.”
Radulov elected to shoot on a two-on-one and scored on a backhand at 17:58.
Al Montoya was scheduled to start in goal but he suffered a lower body injury in practice this week. Zach Fucale was called in from Brampton of the ECHL to serve as backup.
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press