Canadiens win last home game before trade deadline, and David Savard closed it out

MONTREAL — It would be easy for any Montreal Canadiens fan to look at the game Tuesday night against the Arizona Coyotes as a must-lose. That’s obviously not how the Canadiens or the Coyotes would look at it, but for fans, it’s fine.

The fact the Canadiens won an awful game 4-2  put an end to their season-long five-game losing skid, even if it was easily the worst game they played for that streak. It moved them three points ahead of the Coyotes and one point ahead of the Ottawa Senators in the overall standings, whereas a regulation loss would have allowed the Coyotes to leapfrog them, leaving the Canadiens 28th overall in the league.

Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis said wins are important because they put smiles on the players’ faces, and any athlete needs that reward from time to time, even when they don’t play their best.

This is what makes it interesting to see how St. Louis ensured he would secure that win. With the Canadiens clinging to a 3-2 lead with 3:10 left in regulation, David Savard jumped over the boards. The Coyotes pulled goalie Connor Ingram about a minute later.

The game was on the line, the Canadiens needed this win, and Savard played for all but 15 seconds of the final 3:10 of regulation time, first with Kaiden Guhle next to him, and then with Mike Matheson next to him to close it out.

St. Louis needed a closer, and Savard was that closer, as he’s consistently been all season in this exact situation.

After the game, Savard joined his teammates at centre ice to salute the crowd, as they do after every win. He then slowly made his way off the ice but didn’t outwardly appear to do anything special as he did so. He didn’t take an extra long look around him to appreciate the scene, and didn’t seem all that sentimental as he headed to the dressing room.

David Savard checks Jason Zucker of the Coyotes during the Canadiens’ 4-2 victory at the Bell Centre. (Vincent Ethier / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

But in reality, there is a possibility that was the last game Savard will play at the Bell Centre in a Canadiens uniform. How strong of a possibility can be up for debate, but the possibility exists, and the reason it exists is the same reason St. Louis wanted Savard on the ice for almost the entirety of the final three minutes of a game he felt his team needed to win.

The Canadiens’ next home game will be March 9 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, one day after the NHL trade deadline, and before the game, Savard was trying to downplay the game’s potential significance.

“Not really, but obviously I know it’s coming and we’re going on a long road trip,” Savard said. “Like I said before, it’s part of the business, you just never know what’s going to happen. I’m hoping to be here after March 8, but I know it happens quick sometimes. When you get older you get in those situations where your name gets around. I want to be here, I want to stay here, and they know that. We’ll see what happens.”

When Savard signed with the Canadiens on July 28, 2021, he had just finished facing them in the Stanley Cup Final with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who had spent a first-, a third- and a fourth-round pick to acquire him as a rental at the trade deadline. Savard took a $750,000-a-year pay cut to sign with Montreal because his reasons for accepting the Canadiens’ offer were about more than hockey.

“It was a family decision,” Savard said back then. “We had other teams who showed interest, but the Canadiens’ offer was the best option for us to come back closer to home, to be able to see our families a bit more often, the have a chance to play for the Montreal Canadiens, an organization with a lot of history and one I grew up watching. So, for me, that was something I couldn’t really let pass me by.

“I was extremely happy to be able to join the Canadiens, no matter the salary. Once they offered me the contract, we said yes right away.”

At the time, however, he was signing with a Stanley Cup finalist, one with Carey Price as its backbone and young core players like Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield he had just faced in the final and saw as signs of future success. It hasn’t worked out that way. The general manager who signed him and the coach who first coached him are gone. The Canadiens are rebuilding, and the reality of rebuilding teams is they have to look at players like Savard and make the tricky calculation of weighing how much he contributes to the rebuild versus his value on the market.

By the time the Canadiens return to Montreal, we will know how they figured out that equation, but right now, it remains a vague possibility. But even though Savard has not played a playoff game since winning that Stanley Cup against the Canadiens, he is still seen as a player who can help a team get through a playoff grind, and that remains something he takes pride in.

But he wants to demonstrate that in a Canadiens uniform one day.

“Those are the games I want to be part of,” he said. “Obviously, playing a playoff style of hockey, you like those games that are tight. It’s hard to win, you need guys blocking shots, you need guys doing everything they can to win. Sometimes it’s not scoring goals, sometimes it’s something else. We’ve seen it in the past, this is how you win, you need everybody in 100 percent. It’s always been the way I saw the game and wanted to play the game. So, I get that. But like I said, I’m hoping to be here.

“You have the experience and you’ve been around and you’ve seen a few runs, you’ve lost in the playoffs against great teams, you’ve won against great teams too. It’s just circumstances in a way that I’ve been lucky to be in those positions before, and I’m hoping to get back in that position. This group is capable of doing it in the future and that’s why I want to be part of it.”

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Tanner Pearson defends the puck against Arizona’s Juuso Valimaki during the third period. (David Kirouac / USA Today)

Other Canadiens players could have played their final home game for this team. Jake Allen was the backup goalie Tuesday night and might not have a chance to play again at the Bell Centre. Tanner Pearson snapped a 14-game goal drought by scoring what turned out to be the game-winning goal against Arizona, but he is on an expiring contract and is well aware of the reality of that situation.

The last time he was playing the final year of his contract, Pearson was with the Pittsburgh Penguins and his deadline day was a yo-yo of emotions.

“I’ve been through it before, I got traded right at 3 o’clock on the deadline … from Pittsburgh to Vancouver,” Pearson said after the game. “We got told to stick around the rink because we were practicing that day and then we were traveling to I don’t know where. Everyone got told to stick around just to make sure nothing happens, and then we got the word it was probably safe to go.

“As soon as I got off the couch, someone came and grabbed me. That’s how that went.”

Who knows? If Pearson gets hot on the upcoming road trip and pops a few more goals, perhaps someone looking for some depth and another Stanley Cup ring comes calling, though his $3.25 million cap hit makes that a bit of a long shot, especially since the Canadiens only have one salary retention slot remaining and could find more value using it in other ways.

But regardless, March 8 is on Pearson’s mind after moving once already just before the start of the season.

“With a family at home,” he said, “it definitely goes through the heads.”

When Savard signed in Montreal, his three kids were 5, 4 and 18 months. They are now 8, 7, and 4 years old. He signed here so they could live here, be closer to his family, and grow up French.

But as Savard said, he knows it’s a business. Anything can happen over the next week and change. But accepting it’s a business doesn’t make the reality of that business any easier.

(Top photo of David Savard blocking a shot: Minas Panagiotakis / Getty Images)

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