Game 74: Habs tied atop East despite SO loss

Links updated Wednesday 8:08 am

Canadiens’ Christopher Higgins celebrates his first-period goal against the St. Louis Blues.
Dave Sidaway, Gazette

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The Canadiens again find themselves atop the Eastern Conference, sort of, despite tonight’s 4-3 shootout loss to the allegedly lowly St. Louis Blues.

Brad Boyes’s backhand goal on Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak was the only one of six shootout pucks to find the net for either team, lifting the Blues to their victory. Halak, who had a perfect 8-0 Bell Centre record heading into the game, stopped Sherbrooke native David Perron and Paul Kariya, while the Blues’ Manny Lagace stymied Saku Koivu, Andrei Kostitsyn and Alex Kovalev.

Still, Montreal moved into a 90-point tie with idle New Jersey at the East summit, though the Devils have two games in hand.

The Pittsburgh Penguins remained in fourth place in the East at 89 points, 5-2 losers tonight to the Rangers in New York. The Rangers now have 85, just two points behind idle, fifth-place Ottawa, Montreal three ahead of the Senators who have one game in hand.

The Canadiens brought a 40-24-9 record into tonight’s game, light-years superior to the 29-32-11 mark of the Blues. St. Louis was hoping to avoid losing their 11th straight loss on the road, an unenviable franchise record they’ve now avoided. They now are 4-6-0 with two ties in their last dozen visits to the Bell Centre.

The Blues got out of the blocks first, ending Halak’s Bell Centre shutout streak at 86 minutes and 23 seconds on a 5-on-3 Blues advantage. With both Koivu and Tomas Plekanec in the box for Montreal, Erik Johnson drilled home a one-timer at 4:51 of the first period.

Christopher Higgins got the Canadiens even at 11:28 after some hard work behind the net by linemate Sergei Kostitsyn. The latter dug the puck out from behind St. Louis goalie Lagace, stealing it from Jay McKee, then feeding it out front into the skates of Blues defenceman Eric Brewer. Higgins alertly pounced on it and shovelled a backhander past Legace for his 22nd goal of the year.

St. Louis held an 11-6 edge in first-period shots.

Higgins did some terrific work of his own to give the Canadiens the lead at 9:32 of the second period, on the power play. Higgins took a pass from Michael Ryder and, as he was crashing to the ice in the deep slot, managed to feed Koivu on Lagace’s doorstep. The Canadiens’ captain converted the pass for his 16th of the year.

But St. Louis charged back less than a minute later, Andy McDonald firing a harmless-looking shot from along the right boards, freezing Halak in his skates to tie the game 2-2 at 10:19. It might have momentarily rattled the Canadiens goalie, who was beaten again shortly thereafter but was saved by his goal post.

Halak hadn’t a chance on the Blues’ third, Boyes standing absolutely alone at the edge of the Canadiens net when he took a cross-crease pass from Paul Kariya to stuff the puck into the empty side of Montreal’s goal at 15:57.

St. Louis led the shots 21-14 after two periods, enjoying a 10-8 advantage in the second.

Sergei Kostitsyn showed again his incredible vision and superb passing at 6:36 of the third period, whipping a pass to Mikhail Grabovski through heavy traffic on a full-speed rush. Grabovski made no mistake, drilling a high snap shot past Lagace for his second goal of the season to again tie the game and ultimately send the game into overtime.

The Canadiens came to life in the third, outshooting their visitors 13-4 to hold a 25-27 edge after regulation time.

Montreal now faces the Boston Bruins twice in two nights, on the road Thursday and back at the Bell Centre on Saturday.

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