Captain Alex Kovalev, wearing the C in the flu-bug absence of Saku Koivu, is ridden along the boards by Rangers’ Paul Mara.
Bruce Bennett, Getty Images
The record book won’t show that the Canadiens played shorthanded for 60 minutes tonight, but in a very real sense that was the case in the Habs’ 4-3 overtime loss to the New York Rangers.
Brendan Shanahan, who irked Canadiens fans last season by choosing to sign with New York instead of Montreal as an unrestricted free agent, took advantage of a Roman Hamrlik giveaway to beat Habs goalie Cristobal Huet with a high, glove-hand breakaway shot at 1:06 of overtime to give the Rangers a come-from-behind win.
The 19-man Canadiens – using 17 skaters, 11 up front – wrapped up their six-game road trip, the longest they’ll have this season, with a mark of 3-1-2 and eight points of a possible 12. And given how the club has fared in recent holiday-season sojourns away from the Bell Centre, you’d better believe they’ll happily take it.
With captain Saku Koivu ailing with the flu, the Canadiens earlier in the day called up forward Corey Locke from the Hamilton Bulldogs. Locke arrived at Madison Square Garden with minutes to spare, eager to make his long-anticipated NHL debut. But he too was scratched when his equipment didn’t arrive, forcing coach Guy Carbonneau to dress just 19 players.
It was a eight-point night for the line of Tomas Plekanec (one goal, two assists) between Andrei Kostitsyn (two goals, one assist) and acting captain Alex Kovalev (two assists).
Shots on goal were 21-21, though the Rangers had just one on Huet in the second period.
Twice the Canadiens fought from behind then finally seized the lead late in the second, before New York’s Chris Drury tied the game 3-3 at 14:09 of the third from a scramble in front of Huet.
The Rangers, stoked by their 6-1 rout of the Maple Leafs in Toronto one night earlier, were first on the board in a highly entertaining first period, Dan Girardi threading one past Huet on a long, harmless-looking wrist shot from just inside the blue line at 10:14.
Canadiens’ Andrei Kostitsyn scored the equalizer at 18:03 on the power play, his eighth of the season, when he took a pass in the deep slot from centreman Plekanec and wound up from roughly last week to fire a bullet wrist shot high to the glove side of New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
But just 17 seconds later, Rangers captain Jaromir Jagr put the home team back in front, taking a pass from the boards from Scott Gomez to whip one past a surprised Huet.
A less compelling second period picked up great steam in its last six minutes. The Canadiens earned the tying goal, Andrei Kostitsyn again drawing the Habs even, again on the power play, and again on a set-up by Plekanec, though this one came right on Lundqvist’s doorstep, banged in from just a few feet at 14:31.
Then, on a delayed Rangers penalty, defenceman Francis Bouillon did some excellent spadework to begin a huge play, feeding Sergei Kostitsyn, who deftly backhanded the puck to his brother, Andrei, who got it in turn to Plekanec for the latter’s goal at 17:07 – his 12th this season, to go with 20 assists.
Drury’s late goal finally sent the match into overtime.
The Canadiens returned home following the game to enjoy a short New Year’s break, and will open a three-game homestand on Thursday vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Alexander Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals provide the opposition on Saturday, and the no-longer-moribund Chicago Blackhawks wrap it up a week from Tuesday, when the Habs will pay a pre-centennial tribute to another of their Original Six rivals.
New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist lunges for the puck, but fails to snare the second-period goal of Canadiens’ Tomas Plekanec.
Ray Stubblebine, Reuters