TAMPA BAY - After opening the road trip with his first career two-goal game against the Islanders on Tuesday, Chris Higgins was at it again Saturday night in Tampa Bay scoring twice more to lead the Canadiens to a 6-2 win over the Lightning at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Thanks to their third straight victory to start their post-Olympic road trip, the Canadiens (29-22-8) not only strengthened their hold on the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference, but also pulled to within only two points of the seventh-place Lightning (32-24-4).
Higgins wasted no time getting on the scoresheet, beating John Grahame only 12 seconds into the game. The 22-year-old rookie took a pass from Michael Ryder before breaking in and tucking a wrist shot just under crossbar past the Lightning goalie.
The opening tally was the second-fastest by a Canadien to start a game this season behind only Saku Koivu, who beat Martin Brodeur just 11 seconds into the first period against the Devils in New Jersey on Jan. 5.
Higgins struck again during a second period power-play by stuffing a perfect feed from Sheldon Souray past Grahame to put the Canadiens ahead 2-0. Montreal's top pick, 14th overall at the 2002 draft now has 11 goals to lead all Canadiens rookies.
Richard Zednik snapped a seven-game scoring drought with his 13th goal of the season, while Mike Ribeiro ended a 15-game dry spell of his own with his 11th of the year. Alex Kovalev also got in on the action with his 16th, as he pulled himself back into a tie with Saku Koivu for the team lead at 43 points. Jan Bulis capped the scoring on the night by beating Grahame on a breakaway for his 16th goal, tying his career-high set in 2002-03.
Cristobal Huet stopped 27-of-29 shots to improve to 9-5-3 on the season, including a 6-0-2 mark over his last eight starts. Vincent Lecavalier and Ruslan Fedotenko scored goals for the Lightning, with Fedotenko's second period goal ending Huet's shutout string at 105:05. It was a another long night for Grahame, who gave up six goals on 22 shots, after allowing four goals on 13 shots before being pulled in an 8-2 loss to the Panthers on Tuesday.
The Canadiens will look to make it 4-for-4 on their current road trip in Philadelphia on Monday before heading to Toronto for a showdown with the Leafs on Tuesday.
NOTES - Bob Gainey went with the same lineup for third straight game on the road trip, leaving Niklas Sundstrom, Mark Streit and Garth Murray looking on from the pressbox... The team record for the quickest goal to start a game is nine seconds has been achieved five times with the last Canadien to do so being none other than Gainey, who turned the trick against Pokey Reddick in a 7-2 victory over Winnipeg at the Forum on Nov. 5, 1988...Brad Richards extended his point streak to eight games with his assist on Lecavalier's goal... Montreal has now notched at least a point in the standings in 14 of its last 15 games (12-1-2) when a forward scores at least two goals in a game...The Canadiens last collected at least a point in eight straight games from March 5 to March 20, 2004, posting a 6-0-1-1 record... Ryder and Mathieu Dandenault each chipped in with a pair assists...
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com