MONTREAL - Saku Koivu certainly picked a good time to end his slump by scoring the overtime winner in a 3-2 victory over the Capitals Thursday night at the Bell Centre.
The Canadiens (37-27-9) won their fifth straight to keep pace with the Lightning and Devils, as Montreal, New Jersey and Tampa Bay remain tied for the No. 6 spot in the Eastern Conference with 83 points apiece. The news wasn't all bad for the Canadiens on the scoreboard watching front, with the ninth place Thrashers dropping their second straight to fall seven points back of Montreal.
With only 57.6 seconds to go in overtime, Koivu turned a loose puck at the Montreal blue line into a breakaway that ended with the Canadiens captain squeezing a backhand past Olaf Kolzig. The clinching goal not only earned Montreal another pair of crucial points in the standings, but also flung a growing monkey from Koivu's back.
"Don't get me wrong. It's nice to finally get it out of the way, but I can't say it's been bothering me that much especially over the last couple of weeks," said Koivu after snapping a 23-game scoring slump with his 15th of the season. "With the team playing as well as it has of late, that's all that really matters to me.
"And besides, our line has been producing so I knew that it was only going to be a matter of time," added a relieved Koivu, who tied a club record with his third overtime goal of the season. The last player to turn the trick was Toe Blake back in 1936-37. Koivu last goal was also an overtime winner in a 4-3 victory over Toronto on Jan. 28.
Koivu's slump was news to Chris Higgins, who continued his current tear with two more goals, giving him 19 goals on the season, including a dozen over his last 17 games since the Olympic break.
"The last thing I want to do is make Saku feel old, but I remember watching him play when I was a teenager," admitted Higgins."Getting the opportunity to actually play with him gives me the chance to appreciate what a terrific player he is. If you ask me, those who have been criticizing Saku lately for not scoring mustn't really be watching our games."
Higgins began by opening the scoring at the 11:23 mark of the second period on a perfectly executed give-and-go with Koivu. The 22-year-old rookie followed that up with what might prove to be the easiest goal he'll ever score when Olaf Kolzig made a routine save before inexplicably leaving the puck to Higgins, who was left all alone in front with a wide open net to shoot at.
Cristobal Huet had a relatively quiet night in the shot department, kicking aside 27-of-29 shots, with Ben Clymer's second period goal snapping Huet's most recent shutout streak at 118:20. Olaf Kolzig turned aside 30-of-33 shots, including all 17 shots he faced in the first period alone. Jeff Halpern tied the game with 2.5 seconds left in regulation as the Capitals (24-38-10) earned at least a point for a fourth straight game.
With the victory, the Canadiens closed out the month with a 10-5-1 record, marking their most dominant calendar month since January of 1993. That year, Jacques Demers led his squad to a 10-4-1 mark before raising the Stanley later that spring.
Next up for the surging the Canadiens is a pair of games against the Bruins at the Bell Centre beginning Saturday night.
NOTES : Thursday night's showdown with the Capitals drew a capacity crowd of 21,273, marking the Canadiens' 35th consecutive sellout of the season and 58th straight overall packed house dating back to 2003-04... Niklas Sundstrom, Jan Bulis and Todd Simpson were healthy scratches, while Francis Bouillon sat out his seventh straight contest with a left ankle injury... Koivu extended his point streak to five games (1-7-8)... Calder Trophy frontrunner Alexander Ovechkin picked up a pair of assists, giving him 94 points, extending his lead over Sidney Crosby in the rookie scoring race to 14 points.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com