MONTREAL - If ain't broke don't fix it. While they would like an easy night every now and then, the Canadiens notched yet another nail-biting, come-from-behind victory, this time a 3-2 final over the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday at the Bell Centre.
Claude Julien's cardiac kids remain the toast of the Eastern Conference with 25 points thanks to their first 12-3-1 start since 1991-92, while the currently reeling defending Cup champs dropped their fourth straight to fall to 7-7-2.
For the second straight game, Richard Zednik capped another Canadiens miracle finish by notching the game-winner on a spectacular breakaway almost halfway through the third period. After leading the team with nine game-winners back in 2003-04, two of Zednik's four goals so far this season have sealed Montreal victories.
"Once I saw that Kovy spotted me, I just took off," said Zednik, who now has seven points in eight games on the season. "I was afraid [Eklund] was going to poke it from me. I didn't want to put [the puck] on my forehand so I kept it on my backhand to protect it. Then I made a little move like I was going to shoot from the forehand and then I just put it upstairs on my backhand."
After erasing a yet another 2-1 deficit on Tuesday, the Canadiens picked up their fourth win of the season when trailing after two periods. Montreal now leads the league with a 4-2 mark with their backs against the wall, a far cry from their 3-49-2-4 combined record in 2002-03 and 2003-04.
"This is just getting ridiculous," said a smiling Alex Kovalev in disbelief after picking up a pair of assists to give him 17 points on the season. "It's almost like we've been training for exactly these types of situations.
"I've never seen anything like this before ," added the 13-year veteran. "Four or five games in a row maybe I could understand, but this is our 16th game and it feels like we're doing this every night. I just can't explain it."
Kovalev isn't the only one scratching his head over the Canadiens high-wire act so far this season, as opponents must also be wondering how the club now leads the league with a 10-2 record in one-goal games.
"We owe this one to Theo tonight that's for sure," said Julien, who may have to have too look into getting a pacemaker by the all-star break if his team keeps this up. "Our goalie made the difference tonight as he so often has over the years. Jose deserves a lot credit, but we have to play better than we did, especially the way we came out flat in the second period."
The Canadiens were outshot for only the fifth time this season with the Lightning outgunning them 34-19, including a lopsided 14-2 margin in the second period that didn't see Montreal register its first shot until the 16:24 mark.
Theodore earned the game's first star with a 32-save performance that included several highlight reel stops, including a glove save on Brad Richards and his stoning of good buddy Vincent Lecavalier who broke in all alone in the opening period.
"Jose played a heck of a game," admitted Lecavalier. "Those are the kind of games when he's at his best and he gives his team a chance to win. We outshot them what like 34-19? Not to take anything away from the Canadiens, but they're lucky they had Theo tonight."
The Canadiens blueline also had a big night with Andrei Markov and Craig Rivet each scoring power-play goals from the point. Markov potted his first of the season to extend his point streak to four games (1-5-6), while his partner Rivet scored his second of the year.
Despite facing the NHL's second-ranked penalty-killing unit, the Canadiens' power-play was 2-for-7 while the Lightning went 0-for-8.
Rookie netminder Brian Eklund got the start for the Lightning and stopped 16-of-19 shots in the place of regular starter John Grahame and injured Sean Burke. Tampa Bay goal scorers were Tim Taylor and Vaclav Prospal.
The Canadiens will now head off to Pittsburgh for a showdown with rookie phenom Sidney Crosby and the Penguins Thursday night.
NOTES: Tuesday night's match-up with the Lightning drew a capacity crowd of 21,273, marking the Canadiens' ninth straight sellout of the season and 32nd straight overall packed house dating back to 2003-04... C Radek Bonk missed his fifth straight game with a groin injury. C Jan Bulis missed his first game of the season after suffering a shoulder injury in the opening period of Saturday's game against Buffalo... In efforts to shake his team up, Lightning head coach John Tortorella benched 42-year-old team captain Dave Andreychuk... Eklund was no stranger to Canadiens back-up goalie Yann Danis who played alongside Eklund at Brown University for two seasons. Danis was Eklund's understudy in 2000-01 before wrestling the No. 1 job from him the following year on his way to being named to the 2002 ECAC conference all-star team. Eklund was drafted 226th overall by Tampa Bay in 2000, while Danis was never drafted prior to being signed by Montreal in March 2004...
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com