Carolina Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller couldn't have asked for a better Montreal homecoming.
Neither could Canes defenseman Jaroslav Spacek.
With captain Eric Staal the best player on the Bell Centre Ice, with Spacek scoring a power-play goal, the Canes ended a three-game road trip Monday with a hard-earned, well-played 5-3 win over the Montreal Canadiens.
It was the first game back in Montreal for Muller, who helped the Habs win a Stanley Cup as a player in 1993 and was an assistant coach for the Canadiens the last five seasons. Spacek began the season with the Habs but came to Carolina in the December trade that sent Tomas Kaberle to Montreal.
Staal scored twice, the first a shorthanded goal that tied the score 3-3 in the third period that abruptly altered the game's momentum. Staal added an assist and was strong all over the ice in a plus-3 game.
Jamie McBain's power-play goal at 8:50 of the third, on a shot from the slot, gave the Canes the lead and proved to be the winner. Staal's empty-net goal sealed the victory for Carolina (21-25-11) after tough overtime losses against the L.A. Kings and Colorado Avalanche.
A sweet win for Muller?
"I don't think it's anything about the Montreal Canadiens. It's the third game of our road trip and we picked up four out of six points," Muller said. "It's really about our guys. ... They're finding ways to win games like this, finding ways to get a point, two points.
"Our top guys stepped up. Staal has been playing like this for a while. I'm just really happy that he had probably his best game of the year here tonight."
The only downside to the win was an upper-body injury to forward Tuomo Ruutu. The injury came early in the game, perhaps on a collision with the Habs' Tomas Plekanec in the Montreal zone.
Muller said after the game he was unsure about severity of Ruutu's injury, adding, "He's been playing good hockey and he's a guy that we need."
Jiri Tlusty gave the Canes an early 1-0 lead, redirecting a shot by Bryan Allen, and Spacek's power-play goal midway through the second period made it 2-0. But the Habs then surged into the lead in the second with three unanswered goals in a six-minute span -- two on power plays and the second from Erik Cole, his 21st goal of the season.
Allen was called for hooking early in the third to put the Habs back on the power play, with a chance to add to the lead. But Staal made a nifty move in the Habs' zone that left Kaberle sprawled on the ice and put the puck between Carey Price's legs to tie it 3-3.
"We gave them some life with the power play and they scored," Staal said. "But we regrouped in the second intermission and it was good to go out and continue to play hard. We got our opportunities and got the job done.
"We stayed with our game. Stayed aggressive. A shorthanded goal can build some momentum for you. That did and we continued on the attack. ... And MaBain put it home."
Cam Ward stopped 29 shots to earn his 21st victory of the season, and did it against a team that had won four straight.
Spacek, who turned 38 over the weekend, was booed much of the game by Habs fans. Asked Sunday about the trade to Carolina, Spacek said he was glad to be gone from the "circus" in Montreal and referred to the pressurized situation as a "big mess."
"When they announced my name they booed me pretty good," Spacek said. "I was happy about that, actually."
Spacek jumped into the glass behind the net after scoring his goal, letting out an emotional scream.
"I had to celebate a little bit," Spacek said. "Especially here, I'm so happy about that."