|Alex Kovalev scored the Canadiens' only goal despite being far from 100 percent.
MONTREAL – Even ailing and running nearly on empty, Alex Kovalev still almost handled the Panthers on his own.
Pale, weak and with his voice still hoarse from his continuing battle with a pesky sore throat and fever, Kovalev scored his second goal of the season and came within inches of notching the shootout winner. He had Tomas Vokoun all but beaten but couldn’t quite get the puck past the Panthers’ goalie’s right pad.
“It’s been a terrible few days for me. I haven’t slept much at all,” admitted a still congested Kovalev. “It started with my mouth strangely enough and I had all these sores show up on my lips. Then it was my throat, which has been killing me since.
“It’s all Nikita, my oldest son’s, fault,” added Kovalev, still managing a smile through his swollen lips. “He was pretty sick last week and I guess Daddy got it too. I’ve been on all kinds of antibiotics ever since trying to beat this thing. I hope I’ll feel better tomorrow.”
If Kovalev was under the weather it was news to Bryan Smolinski, who was skating alongside him for the first time.
“If Alex wasn’t at 100 percent, it sure didn’t show here tonight,” shrugged Smolinski. “He looked like he was having fun out there. He made a few beautiful plays and did whatever he wanted with the puck the way he likes to.”
Playing with someone of Kovalev’s skill level is nothing new to Smolinski, whose seven previous NHL stops have seen him flank some of the top players in the game.
“I’ve had the chance to play with some spectacular players over the years and Alex is one more to add to that list,” admitted Smolinski after forming a line with Kovalev and Tomas Plekanec
. “Kovalev is the kind of player who can turn a game around at any moment, and he showed what he can do here tonight.”
Seeing the Panthers escape from the Bell Centre with two points was a disappointing result, but the Canadiens’ stuffed up winger hopes what he saw from his teammates on Tuesday night is a sign of things to come.
“We have to feel good about our performance, this is the best effort this group has shown so far this season,” said Kovalev. “We gave it all we had for 60 minutes. If we can play this way and just bury our chances we’ll be fine. We just have to build on the good things we showed tonight.”
While a shootout winner by Kovalev would have been just what the doctor ordered for the Canadiens on this night, a few more days of chicken noodle soup and NyQuil wouldn’t hurt Alex either. Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com