MONTREAL - On a night when the Canadiens were once again without a handful of regulars, a pair of unlikely heroes rose to the challenge, including Jan Bulis who scored the game-winner to sink the Kings 3-2 Saturday at the Bell Centre.
The Canadiens (15-7-5) ended their four-game slide to regain sole possession of second place in the Northeast Division. The Kings (16-12-1) dropped their fourth straight as they remained winless on their current East coast road trip.
As if waiting 18 games between goals wasn't tough enough, Bulis was forced to sit through a lengthy goal review before finally being able to breathe a sigh of relief and celebrate his third goal of the season.
"It's been tough with all the posts and crossbars I've hit lately that I'm just happy the goal finally came today. But when they went upstairs to review it I just thought Oh no, don't do this to me!" laughed Bulis, whose goal was his first since Oct. 12 and only the second shorthanded goal of his eight-year NHL career.
With Steve Begin in alone and Craig Conroy hot on his tail, Bulis was trailing on the play and accepted a perfect pass. He then fired the puck into the open net as Conroy crashed into Kings' goalie Mathieu Garon, seemingly dislodging the net momentarily.
"Even though one of the linesmen came over during the delay to tell me it should count, I was still praying they were going to allow it," admitted Bulis. "It was a heck of a play by Begin. I was screaming at him all the way from our blue line that he had me there and he made a great play."
After accounting for both Montreal goals on Thursday against the Sabres, the recently reunited line of Mike Ribeiro, Michael Ryder and Pierre Dagenais continued to have the hot hand on Saturday. On the heels of snapping his 14-game scoreless skid against Buffalo, Dagenais tallied twice, giving him four on the season, with Ribeiro setting the table each time tonight.
"I'm feeling better than I have all season," proclaimed Dagenais, who now has four points over his last four games. "Getting a chance play with [Ribeiro] and [Ryder] and getting a regular shift has done a lot for my confidence. I feel more patient out there and it's made a big difference.
"[Claude Julien] always told me to be patient, keep working hard and that I would get my opportunity," said Dagenais after logging a season-high 17:54 of ice-time. "When I was only playing five minutes a game earlier this year it was really tough to accept, but the team was winning and that's the important thing. I never lost sight of the fact that Montreal is where I want to be and where I want to win and that's all that matters to me."
Ribeiro isn't surprised that Dagenais has once again begun to find the back of the net.
"I saw it coming," said Ribeiro of his 6-foot-5 linemate, who did notch 17 goals in only 50 games in 2003-04. "Pierre had been getting a lot of good chances over the past few games and I knew it was only a matter of time. I'm really happy for him and it couldn't have come at a better time with all the guys we have out of the lineup right now."
Julien also liked what he saw from his troops.
"It's great see guys step up when they're given a chance to show what they can do," said Julien. "Pierre is a guy who found himself on the fourth line earlier this season but he has really come through for us lately. Pierre, like all the players we're leaning on right now for bigger contributions, is getting the chance to prove himself all over again."
In his return to the Bell Centre after spending five seasons with the Canadiens, Mathieu Garon stopped 28-of-31 shots from his former mates. Jose Theodore earned the game's second star after a strong night that saw him kick aside 28-of-30 shots to improve to 12-5-5 on the year.
Scoring goals for the Kings on the night were Sherbrooke's own Eric Belanger and Jeff Cowan.
After being right in the middle of what was a chippy night in Ottawa on Friday and grabbing headlines all week in Quebec in light of his comments regarding francophone players in the NHL made earlier this season, the always controversial Sean Avery picked up an assist despite being serenaded all night long by a capacity crowd at the Bell Centre. The NHL's penalty minutes leader had a quiet night with only one minor after piling up 19 minutes in penalties against the Senators on Friday. He was also the recipient of a couple of big hits courtesy of Francis Bouillon and former Red Wings teammate Mathieu Dandenault.
Montreal is now 11-1-2 when scoring first, while the Kings were unable to add to their league-leading nine wins when falling behind to start a game. The Canadiens picked up their first win in regulation in 11 games, dating back to their 3-2 win over the Lightning back on Nov. 8.
The injury-riddled Canadiens will now have a well-deserved full week off to recover before they host the Anaheim Mighty Ducks next Saturday at the Bell Centre.
Notes: Saturday night's clash with the Kings drew a capacity crowd of 21,273, marking the Canadiens' 15th consecutive sellout of the season and 35th straight overall packed house dating back to 2003-04... C Saku Koivu missed his second straight game with a groin injury suffered during practice Wednesday morning... C Radek Bonk was out of the lineup after re-aggravating a groin injury that had already cost him seven games this season... D Andrei Markov served the final game of his three-game suspension for allegedly shoving a linesman following last Saturday's game in Toronto... D Mike Komisarek (personal) missed his third straight game ... Begin has now been involved in all three of the Canadiens' shorthanded goals this season (2-1-3)... LW Garth Murray never played a shift in his Canadiens debut after being called up from Hamilton earlier in the day. The rugged 6-foot-2, 213-pounder was acquired by Montreal from the New York Rangers in exchange for Marcel Hossa on September 30... After logging 0:39 of ice-time in his NHL debut on Thursday against Buffalo, LW Andrei Kostitsyn again played only one shift for a total of 0:29... Following the game, the Canadiens sent Murray, Kostitsyn and D Jean-Philippe Cote back down to Hamilton.. The Kings were without Jeremy Roenick (flu) for the second straight game.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com