Game 11: Habs streak snapped by Thrashers in shootout

0priceatl.jpgCanadiens goalie Carey Price drops to make a save against the Thrashers.
Christinne Muschi, Reuters

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The Canadiens’ four-game winning streak came to an end tonight – in a shootout.

The Atlanta Thrashers, dominant through the first half of the game, scored twice on Canadiens goalie Carey Price in the shootout, the Habs getting just one on Atlanta’s Johan Hedberg at the other end. The visitors were full value for their 3-2 victory.

Price was beaten first by Bryan Little, then Ilya Kovalchuk, after having stopped Vyacheslav Kozlov. Hedberg stopped Tomas Plekanec, was deked beautifully by Saku Koivu for a goal, then ran Alex Kovalev out of ice on the must-score effort of the Habs forward.

Christopher Higgins had converted a perfect pass from Koivu at 18:02 of the third period, pulling the glacier-fast-starting Habs into a 2-2 tie.

Higgins’s goal, his fourth of the season, was the Canadiens’ NHL-best 19th power-play score this year.

Montreal had led this one 1-0, then fell behind 2-1 on two fast second-period Thrashers goals before clawing back to tie late to earn at least one point by sending the game into overtime.

It could have been that the Canadiens shot themselves out in Saturday’s eight-round shootout in Pittsburgh; the Thrashers outshot their hosts an embarrassing 13-2 in the first 20 minutes.

Good thing two of Montreal’s defencemen had a decent aim, because not a single forward managed to find the net. Only Roman Hamrlik and Mike Komisarek earned shots for the Habs.

Price was not severely tested, but he absorbed most of what came his way, not coughing up rebounds to the circling Thrashers. He also proved useful in head-manning the puck from behind his own net, helping clear the zone.

Montreal killed off two penalties, to Bryan Smolinski and Andrei Markov, and managed one of their two shots while on the power play.

Kyle Chipchura has the Habs’ best chance 3 1/2 minutes into the second on a short-handed 2-on-1 break, Hedberg swallowing up a hard, close-in shot with Higgins used as the decoy with Michael Ryder serving a minor for high-sticking.

Kovalev gave the Canadiens the lead at 8:10, scoring his fourth power-play goal of the season and sixth of the year, working his way into the faceoff circle to the left of Hedberg before whipping an unassisted wrist shot home on the goalie’s stick side. It was just the Canadiens’ fourth shot of the game, Atlanta with 17 by that point.

The Thrashers tied it 1-1 when Eric Perrin banged a loose puck past Price, Komisarek and Andrei Markov uncharacteristically bolted to the ice, clearing neither the puck nor the traffic.

Just 57 seconds later, a Josh Gorges bantam-hockey giveaway that the seldom-used Canadiens defenceman will see in his nightmares sent Kozlov in alone for a no-mistake Thrashers goal, vaulting Atlanta into the lead.

At least the Canadiens showed a little more sign of life, outshooting the Thrashers 11-9 in the second period and held a 16-9 edge in the third.

The Canadiens will practice Wednesday for Thursday’s Bell Centre game against the ultra-physical Philadelphia Flyers. Expect a less than warm welcome for the Flyers’ Daniel Brière, who spurned the Canadiens’ rich free-agency offer in favour of taking his speedy game to Philadelphia.


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