MONTREAL — If Lars Eller was trying to embarrass the Winnipeg Jets with his twirling penalty shot move for a fourth goal of the game late on Wednesday night, it’s uncertain whether it worked.
The Jets were already embarrassing by then.
They gave up four goals in the third period, three of them in a span of 50 seconds, and were blown out to the tune of 7-3 at the Bell Centre.
"We know how we can play," Jets coach Claude Noel said after the thumping. "The thing that sticks out to me is a young team that’s maybe satisfied with the way that we played.
"Things were going good. We were feeling good about ourselves. As soon as you get comfortable, that’s what happens."
Eller was awarded his penalty shot at 11:01 of the third after Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey grabbed him on his in-alone approach to relief Winnipeg goalie Chris Mason.
With the game at 6-2, Eller brought his free chance in and did a 360-degree turn — it’s possible he moved the puck backwards, which is not allowed but also not relevant to the outcome — and scored to help the Habs to just their second win in the last nine games.
"Je suis tres content pour Lars," Habs coach Randy Cunneyworth said, in French, to start his post-game press conference. I am very happy for Lars, he said.
The young Dane certainly helped pulled his team out of the doldrums.
Eller had the early third-period bread that sandwiched a goal by Mike Cammalleri that banged in off the shin pad of Jets defenceman Zach Bogosian.
The brace gave Eller the hat trick, and his later penalty-shot goal made for four, doubling his production to eight on the year.
The party in Montreal had already started on the hat-trick goal and led to the early departure of Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who gave up six on just 24 shots. Mason came on for the final 13-plus minutes, possibly a warm-up for a start tonight in Toronto, where Winnipeg’s road trip continues.
"That’s not the way we wanted to start (the trip)," Pavelec said. "We have to be way better on the road. Tomorrow’s another game. It’s going to be how we bounce back, how we’re going to respond.
"Tonight, we didn’t deserve to win. Simple."
Pavelec said there was optimism after Blake Wheeler’s late second-period goal had brought the game to 3-2.
"We were there after the second, 3-2," he said. "But we kind of had a slow start in the third and they took advantage and 6-2 was pretty tough to play.
"We started to turn the puck over. It was a key. We had some mistakes and they scored the goals."
At 6-2, the most optimistic Jets fans might have been saying that, well, Team Canada was down 6-1 the night before and rallied hard at the World Junior. But reality says that this in the NHL, where even the struggling Canadiens do not play the inferior hockey of boys at the World Junior.
After a 10-3-1 December, this was hardly a convincing case that the Jets have a "new" game heading into 2012. It certainly wasn’t a good way to start a four-game road trip against a team below them in the standings.
The waxing left the Jets stuck in ninth place in the NHL’s Eastern Conference. And Montreal, 15-18-7, is now two points closer and just six back of Winnipeg.
"We let it get away a little bit there, a minute or less," said Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey, who authored the giveaway with partner Toby Enstrom that led to Eller’s key 4-2 goal. "What are you gonna do?
"We were fine. We just had a miscommunication. I tried to pass it to my partner and I don’t know if he wasn’t ready or didn’t see it or whatever. Then you’re running around, they make a play and then they got some momentum and put two quick ones after that. and put it out of reach.
"We’ll stew over this for the next couple of hours, get up in the morning and get ready for them (Toronto) that’s a team we’re within a point of."