MONTREAL (AP) — The Montreal Canadiens were instantly deflated when Max Pacioretty went down with an injury.
Montreal lost its top scorer and then the game as the league-best Anaheim Ducks won 2-1 on Thursday night.
With the Canadiens trailing 1-0, Pacioretty left the game four minutes into the third period after taking a late hit into the boards by Anaheim's Clayton Stoner. Pacioretty, who never saw Stoner coming, spent several seconds on his knees on the ice before being helped to the dressing room by the Canadiens' training staff.
There was no penalty called on the play.
"You know he's a leader because it felt like we had just lost the game when we lost him. That was a weird feeling," said David Desharnais, who thought Stoner deserved a five-minute boarding penalty.
"I saw the replay. I didn't see it live. For sure it's a penalty. Maybe more. We'll let the league decide."
Pacioretty had just made a pass out of the defensive zone when Stoner knocked him headfirst into the corner boards. He did not have his back to Stoner, but his body turned awkwardly as he fell into the glass.
Pacioretty sustained an upper-body injury on the play and was taken straight to the hospital for what coach Michel Therrien called "precautionary reasons." There is no indication how many games, if any, Pacioretty will miss.
Stoner thought the check was clean and undeserving of a penalty.
"Their team wasn't happy about it," he said. "I didn't mean to hurt him, but the game is fast, and sometimes guys go into the boards wrong. I hope he's all right. I didn't have any intentions to hurt him."
Brandon Prust and Stoner dropped the gloves a few minutes after the hit, with the Canadiens' winger sending the Anaheim defenseman to the ice.
Despite losing the key offensive player — Pacioretty leads the team with 13 goals and 25 points — Montreal responded with a goal less than two minutes later.
With Patrick Maroon in the penalty box for interference, Desharnais sent a one-timer past goalie Frederik Andersen at 5:27 of the third after a clever cross-ice pass from Andrei Markov.
Montreal's celebrations, however, didn't last too long. At 8:33 of the third, with P.K. Subban just stepping out of the penalty box, Matt Beleskey scored the winner by beating Carey Price top corner for his team-leading 15th goal of the season.
Hampus Lindholm also scored and Andersen made 23 saves for his 18th win of the season and the Ducks won for the eighth time in their last nine games.
Price finished with 21 saves.
Before the game, the Canadiens honored former captain Saku Koivu, who retired from professional hockey in September after 13 seasons with the Canadiens and another five with the Ducks. After a video montage of tributes from fans, former teammates and trainers, an emotional Koivu thanked the city he called home for most of his career.
Markov, Price, Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec presented Koivu with a commemorative painting as part of the pregame ceremony.
When the puck finally dropped, the Ducks quickly showed why they are at the top of the NHL standings.
The Ducks ran circles around the Canadiens from the get-go, keeping Montreal's fourth line back in its own zone for nearly 3 minutes. Montreal countered with desperation icings, and head coach Michel Therrien was forced to take a timeout early in the game with his team being outshot 7-1.
Price could do little to stop the Ducks' eighth shot, as Lindholm sent a puck past two players and into the back of the net at 8:16 of the first.
The Canadiens, the league's worst first-period team, failed to score in the opening 20 minutes for the 23rd time this season.
"We played a pretty good game, except for the start," Markov said. "We started playing better and better. We always knew it was going to be a tough game, a big challenge for us. It was a tight game."
Sergei Gonchar came close to tying the score again in the game's final minute with Montreal's net empty, but the veteran defenseman instead found the outside of the post.
NOTES: Forward Sven Andrighetto was sent down to Hamilton of the AHL on Wednesday. The 21-year-old had three points in four games with Montreal this season. ... Corey Perry missed the game with a knee injury sustained on Dec. 5. ... Lars Eller was not in the lineup (upper-body injury) despite taking part in the pre-game skate. ... Markov, Price, Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec presented Koivu with a commemorative painting before the game.