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Canadiens’ Sergei Kostitsyn converts a Tomas Plekanec pass for a first-period goal against Washington Capitals goalie Brent Johnson.
Christinne Muschi, Reuters
Those fans hoping the Canadiens would pick up where they left off last week – a marvelous come-from-behind victory over the nearly invincible New Jersey Devils – are not disappointed tonight.
The Canadiens returned to action following the NHL’s annual all-star break with first-period goals by Mark Streit, Sergei Kostitsyn and Saku Koivu, then shut down Washington superstar Alex Ovechkin with perfect Cristobal Huet goalkeeping until Alex Kovalev netted a final-minute goal to record a 4-0 triumph over the Capitals at the Bell Centre.
Huet made 35 saves to record his second shutout of the season, the first coming Nov. 5 against the Buffalo Sabres. It was his 15th career whitewash.
With the win over coach Bruce Boudreau’s Capitals, the Canadiens remain six points behind the Eastern Conference-leading Ottawa Senators, 5-2 winners over the Islanders tonight on Long Island. The Habs hold a game in hand.
Montreal improved to 10-8-5 at the Bell Centre, a little less of a black hole for the home team, for an overall record of 27-15-8.
In name, at least, this was the same sport that staged an all-star game on Sunday in Atlanta. But where the annual “classic” was a sleepwalk, tonight’s game featured some heavy hitting and plenty of heads-up play – lest there be even more heavy hitting.
Canadiens defenceman Mark Streit opened the scoring with his seventh of the season off a one-timer on the power-play, fed by all-star blue-liner Andrei Markov and forward Michael Ryder at 9:46 of the first period.
You’ll not often see anything smarter or more opportunistic than Sergei Kostitsyn’s shorthanded goal at 16:53, 200-game veteran Tomas Plekanec anticipating a Capitals pass deep in Montreal ice, intercepting it and streaking down the rink.
Kostitsyn joined the rush, having burst out of the penalty box after a 33-second Capitals 5-on-3 with Steve Bégin also in the box, to convert the perfect, selfless pass from Plekanec for his fourth of the season.
Did we say opportunistic? The Canadiens struck once again at 18:25, Saku Koivu drilling home a pass out from behind the Washington net for his 10th, having been fed by Bégin. Koivu had begun the play, his head-man pass to Bégin missing its target, but Bégin chased down the puck for the pass back to his charging captain.
Kovalev rounded out the scoring with his 22nd of the year, banging in a power-play rebound, assisted by Plekanec and Streit.
Huet faced 15 first-period shots. Brent Johnson made 11 saves at the other end of the ice through the first 20 minutes. The Caps outshot Montreal 13-11 in the scoreless second.
The two teams meet again on Capitals ice on Thursday before the Canadiens return home for Super Bowl-weekend matinées vs. the New York Islanders on Saturday and New York Rangers on Sunday.
Canadiens players congratulate goalie Cristobal Huet on the netminder’s second shutout of the season, a 4-0 victory tonight over the Washington Capitals.
Christinne Muschi, Reuters