Canadiens defenceman Mike Komisarek congratulates goaltender Carey Price after tonight’s victory over the Flyers in Philadephia.
Len Redkoles, NHLI via Getty Images
Most of it was the game that Canadiens fans were waiting, even praying for, and could well be what gets their team’s engine running on all cylinders again heading into the club’s final two home games of 2007.
Montreal offered a mostly solid performance on Wachovia Centre ice tonight, albeit one with a few lapses of discipline, to defeat the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1.
Now, we’ll see whether the Habs can bottle the hard-earned W and uncork it Saturday night at the Bell Centre against their forever rivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs, who will arrive in Montreal in the wee hours of game day, playing the Thrashers in Atlanta on Friday night.
Canadiens’ Mark Streit had two goals tonight, the first two-goal game of his NHL career, joined on the scoresheet by Christopher Higgins and Andrei Kostitsyn.
Tomas Plekanec had a pair of assists, while Montreal goalie Carey Price made 30 saves to earn the victory, the Habs firing 23 on Flyers’ Antero Niitymaki.
Sergei Kostitsyn didn’t figure in any scoring in his NHL debut, but played 12:35 and never looked out of place. He figures to make a name for himself on the Canadiens, in a hurry.
Higgins opened the scoring for the Habs at 8:17 of the first period on the power play, Flyers’ Scott Hartness off for slashing.
His 13th goal of the season and fourth in his last six games was the outgrowth of some beautiful puck-control work by flu-weakened captain Saku Koivu, who weaved deep into Flyers ice before threading a pass through the slot to Andrei Markov. The pinched-in defenceman whipped a pass back cross-ice to Higgins, who buried a short wrist shot from the edge of the crease past Niitymaki.
The ice was still wet in the second period when Kostitsyn made it 2-0 at 21 seconds with his fifth of the season. Centre Tomas Plekanec capitalized on a botched Flyers rush, raced the puck up ice along the left boards and perfectly fed Kostitsyn, who had sprinted in and gotten behind a Philadelphia defender for the tip-in.
Philly’s famous boo-birds were in full voice at 5:01 when Streit scored his third of the year to put the Canadiens up 3-0, banging home a sharp pass sent out from behind the net by Alex Kovalev. It came on the power play, Montreal’s fourth man-advantage situation of the game until then.
And then Streit struck again at 9:58. Centre Maxim Lapierre won the draw deep in Philadelphia ice and battled to feed the puck to Tom Kostopoulos, who sent a terrific pass through to Streit at Niitymaki’s side, untouched behind Flyers defenceman Rory Fitzpatrick.
The Flyers finally got on the board at 15:52, Mike Knuble having a pass from Mike Richards deflect off his left skate behind Price with Montreal defenceman Ryan O’Byrne serving a hooking minor. It was the uncommonly disciplined Habs’ first penalty of the game.
But that good behaviour was to end, and only good penalty-killing saved the Habs bacon in the next few minutes.
Philadelphia was gifted with a four-minute power-play 59 seconds after Philly’s goal, Kyle Chipchura cutting Flyers’ R.J. Umberger with a high stick. The Habs killed off the first two minutes of that when defenceman Roman Hamrlik took a bad minor for roughing at Price’s side after the whistle at 18:50, giving Philly a period-spanning 5-on-3 for 1:59. But the Habs weathered it without damage.
O’Byrne took a holding penalty behind his own net at 2:38 of the third, missing a check on Joffrey Lupil and clutching him instead, but was helped out when Lupil held Koivu 50 seconds later to even the sides.
The Canadiens were 2-4-2 in their eight games heading into tonight’s contest, having dropped a 3-2 shootout decision on Tuesday to the road-lowly Tampa Bay Lightning at the black hole otherwise known as the Bell Centre.
Statistically, the Habs held the edge over: the Flyers, (16-11-2), who haven’t beaten the 15-11-5 Canadiens since Nov. 25, 2006. They did that – where else? – at the Bell Centre.
The Canadiens returned home immediately after the victory and practise Friday in preparation for Saturday’s game against the Maple Leafs, hoping to avoid losing a franchise-equalling seventh consecutive game on Montreal ice.