DETROIT â€” Montreal rested many of its key players with nothing at stake in its last game of the regular season.
The short-handed Canadiens were still good enough to beat the lowly Detroit Red Wings.
Alex Galchenyuk scored 1:42 into overtime, giving Montreal a 3-2 victory over Detroit on Saturday night in the next-to-last game at Joe Louis Arena.
“That was an amazing feeling,” Galchenyuk said. “The crowd was so emotional because of what is happening with this building, so it was a great goal to get. I wish I had kept the puck because it was a great way to finish our last game here and to end the season.”
The Atlantic Division-champion Canadiens, locked into a first-round matchup with the New York Rangers, rested many players. Carey Price, Max Pacioretty and Alexander Radulov were among their healthy scratches. A few Montreal players, including Shea Weber, sat out to let injuries heal more before the playoffs.
“I was impressed by all the young guys,” Montreal coach Claude Julien said.
Even though the Red Wings have been eliminated from contention, ending their post-season streak at 25, they have plenty of motivation in their final weekend at Joe Louis Arena to win for fans paying a premium for hard-to-get tickets.
“They’re paying a lot of money to come see us play in this building,” said Dylan Larkin, who gave Detroit a 2-1 lead midway through the second period.
Detroit’s Frans Nielsen and Larkin scored tiebreaking goals in the first and second periods, firing up the crowd as if a victory would matter in the standings. Montreal’s Nathan Beaulieu and Artturi Lehkonen scored tying goals in the second.
Charlie Lindgren made 25 saves for the Canadiens. Petr Mrazek stopped 27 shots for the Red Wings.
A sold-out crowd was in a festive mood, without a doubt, a night before the Red Wings hosts their last hockey game on Sunday against New Jersey in the banner-filled arena they’ve called home since the 1979-80 season. They’ll move to a new facility, Little Caesars Arena, nearby next season.
Even though Detroit is in last place in the Atlantic Division, there was a playoff-like atmosphere all night.
“We can’t ask for anything more than that,” Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t give it back to the fans.”
Every fan seemed to be standing when the puck dropped in overtime and a collective sigh was heard when Detroit defenceman Mike Green turned the puck over near Mrazek. The Canadiens took advantage with Galchenyuk scoring off an assist from Nikita Nesterov.
“It’s the last game for a lot of guys to prove that they’re ready for their first playoff game,” Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher said. “Guys are excited and it showed. It was a playoff atmosphere out there and up and down our lineup we had pretty good jump.”
Red-and-white clad spectators didn’t exit the building right away. Hundreds of fans lingered in their seats and aisles, some going down to the glass, long after the game ended to take pictures in what for many of them will be their last visit.
Former Detroit goaltender Chris Osgood provided a positive perspective on fans knowing Sunday’s game will be the finale at Joe Louis Arena.
“It might’ve been meant to be to miss the playoffs and to really have closure at The Joe,” Osgood said. “If the last game was a playoff game, you wouldn’t have the same kind of celebration or feel.”
NOTES: Montreal’s scratches also included Jordie Benn, Tomas Plekanec, Alexei Emelin and Andrei Markov. Weber and Emelin have lower-body injuries and Benn has an upper-body ailment, but all three are expected to face the Rangers. … Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom dropped a ceremonial puck and was joined in the arena by former Red Wings such as Tomas Holmstrom and Dino Ciccarelli. “I think Sunday will be an emotional day for a lot of people,” Lidstrom said. … Detroit F Matt Lorito made his NHL debut.
Canadiens: Host the New York Rangers in Game 1 of a first-round series.
Red Wings: Host a game at Joe Louis Arena for the last time on Sunday against New Jersey.
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Larry Lage, The Associated Press