MONTREAL (CP) - Rookie Andrei Kostitsyn emerged the hero for the Montreal Canadiens in a key battle for playoff position with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Kostitsyn scored in regulation time and got the game-winner in the fourth round of a shootout in a 3-2 Montreal win on Saturday night.
The 22-year-old, drafted 10th overall in 2003, has impressed many with his speed, shot and energy since he was called up from AHL Hamilton on Feb. 22 and picked a marquee match - Canadiens-Leafs on a Saturday night - to shine.
"Let's settle down and don't push him," said Canadiens captain Saku Koivu, who also had a goal in regulation and in the shootout. "He's a young, very talented player working his way up to the NHL."
"But it's never easy to make that step. It will take time."
Another rookie, goaltender Jaroslav Halak, also shone as the Leafs outshot Montreal 39-31. He stopped three of four Toronto shooters in the shootout.
On the final shot, he turned back Darcy Tucker to secure the win.
"I thought he played really, really well, especially in the third period when Toronto came out strong," said coach Guy Carbonneau, who went with Halak after a bad outing by David Aebischer in a 6-3 loss in Pittsburgh on Friday night. "They got the puck to the net with traffic, so he had to make some big saves."
The two points earned by Montreal and one for the Leafs left the teams tied with the New York Islanders in ninth place in the NHL Eastern Conference - one point behind the New York Rangers, who hold the eighth and final playoff spot.
"With how tight it is now - and it's not going to get easier for anyone - that point we gained may be huge in the end," added Koivu.
"We have to bear down and get wins," said Tucker. "It doesn't matter who we're playing now, we have to get two points."
Pavel Kubina's goal at 8:41 of the third period on a shot that went off forward Christopher Higgins' knee tied the game at two and forced a scoreless overtime and the shootout.
Mats Sundin beat Halak to put Toronto ahead in the shootout, but Koivu tied it and then Kostitsyn deked to the forehand and scored.
Kyle Wellwood also scored for Toronto, which was coming off a 5-1 loss in Washington on Friday night.
The sell-out crowd of 21,273 and its usual large contingent of blue-and-white clad Leaf fans created an electric atmosphere for a key match.
"I don't think you could tell where this game was being played, there were a lot of Leaf fans here," said Toronto coach Paul Maurice. "We fought back and tried to give them a little more to cheer about."
"This is as good a building as you'll find for a hockey game. There was a lot of buzz going on."
On the ice, emotions ran high, with lots of hitting and frequent shoving matches.
The Leafs started slowly and Montreal grabbed the lead when Kostitsyn used Hal Gill as a screen for a shot off a rush that beat Raycroft at 6:05.
Toronto woke up after a lively scrap between Tucker and Francis Bouillon, a reprise of their battle in the teams' last meet that ended with the Leafs forward on the ice from a one-punch knockdown. This one was a draw.
Bouillon was reluctant to call it a grudge with Tucker.
"I don't know, but I'll always be there if he wants to play physical," said Bouillon. "That's the kind of game I like to play in - so intense and physical, but with good hockey at the same time."
"We played an awesome game from the goaltender to the forwards."
Wellwood tied it on a power play at 15:01 when he took Bryan McCabe's pass at the side of the net, waited for Halak to go down and slipped in his 10th of the season.
Montreal was outshot 11-6 in the second frame, but got the only goal when Koivu skated out from behind the net and slipped a backhand in through a crowd in front.
The Canadiens hold a 4-2-1 edge over the Leafs this season, with three wins in extra time, but a big match between them remains in Toronto on the final night of the regular season on April 7.
Sundin remains one goal shy of Darryl Sittler's team record of 389 career goals and two points short of 900 with Toronto. Centre Yanic Perreault needs two points for 500 in his career.
Notes - Tomas Kaberle missed a seventh game for Toronto since his hit against the boards from Cam Janssen, but Kyle Wellwood and Carlo Colaiacovo were back after sitting out a game each. . . Wade Belak, John Pohl and Travis Green were scratched. . . Montreal had Alexei Kovalev back after missing two games with vertigo. Radek Bonk missed a third game with a flu and Alexander Perezhogin a seventh game with a concussion. Sergei Samsonov and Garth Murray were scratched.