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Evans scores winner late to lift Canadiens over Devils in pre-season tilt

MONTREAL — Canadiens goaltender Cayden Primeau is making a solid first impression on his teammates after one pre-season game.

MONTREAL — Canadiens goaltender Cayden Primeau is making a solid first impression on his teammates after one pre-season game. 

The 20-year-old Primeau stopped 16-of-17 shots, including a pair of highlight-reel saves, to lead the Montreal Canadiens to a 4-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Monday night in the exhibition opener for both teams.

Primeau, Montreal's seventh-round draft pick in 2017, came into the game at the halfway mark in relief of Carey Price.

"Some of those saves were ridiculous," said forward Max Domi. "It's great to see. He's going to be one hell of a goalie for a long, long time. Obviously to learn from Pricey, I'm sure he's licking his chops to watch him. He had a great night tonight."

Primeau spent the last two seasons at Northeastern University (NCAA) where he put up impressive numbers. The New Jersey native is primed to become the top goaltender for the AHL's Laval Rocket this season.

The Canadiens prospect did his best Price impression on Monday night.

Besides a goal on an unlucky bounce, Primeau was solid in net for Montreal. His biggest save was on Blake Coleman with the glove on a 2-on-1 in the second period.

"I knew I had to respect the shooter, especially at this level," said Primeau. "It looked like he was going to pass it all the way. So I got ready, kind of just blacked out and pushed over as hard as I could."

Fans at the Bell Centre chanted his name in appreciation.

"I couldn't help it but crack a smile," said Primeau of the fan reaction. "There were so many emotions. It was unbelievable. This was my first time experiencing something like this. First pre-season game was something special."

With the score tied 2-2 in the third, Primeau shut the door on Kyle Palmieri who came crashing hard to the net with the Devils on a power play.

"He brought life back into the crowd," said coach Claude Julien. "He had a great game. He handled himself well."

Jake Evans scored the short-handed winner with 2:28 remaining in the game when he stole the puck from a Devils player at his own blue-line and beat Evan Cormier top shelf on a breakaway. Cormier made 11 saves in relief in the third.

Nick Cousins sealed it with an empty-net goal in the final minute of play.

A handful of regular NHL players suited up for both teams, which is not always the case in early exhibition matches.

Domi, Shea Weber and Jonathan Drouin dressed for the Canadiens. Top prospect Ryan Poehling did not play.

Nico Hischier and Palmieri were on the ice for the split-squad Devils while P.K. Subban and Jack Hughes remained in New Jersey to face the Boston Bruins in another exhibition game at Prudential Center.

The Canadiens scored twice on four shots in the game's opening eight minutes.

Artturi Lehkonen got the first at 2:29 when he redirected Weber's slap shot from the point past Mackenzie Blackwood, who stopped 11-of-13 shots after two periods.

Montreal went up 2-0 through Nate Thompson's rebound goal following a bad angle shot from Cousins at 8:14.

Will Butcher cut the deficit for the Devils at 18:25 of the first with a precise top-corner shot on Price's stick side. Price conceded one goal on nine shots

After a scoreless second, a wicked bounce off the side boards gave Michael McLeod a wide open net at 1:55 of the third while Primeau waited for the puck behind the net.

"We want to have a good pre-season and a good winning record," said Drouin, who had an assist. "Usually you feel good coming into the season when you have some good wins in pre-season. It's nice to see the young guys come in and have fun and work hard."

It was the first of seven pre-season games for the Canadiens, who travel to Bathurst, N.B., to play the Florida Panthers in exhibition play on Wednesday.

Kelsey Patterson, The Canadian Press