TAMPA BAY - Thanks to Jose Theodore's much-anticipated return to the lineup, the Canadiens snapped their nine-game road skid with a 4-3 win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lighting at the St. Pete Times Forum Wednesday night.
After sitting out the last four games with a knee injury, Theodore made 41 saves to help the Canadiens (18-11-6) avoid the dubious distinction of dropping their 10th consecutive road game for the first time since 1925-26. The victory was Montreal's first away from the Bell Centre since a 3-2 win over the Sabres back on Nov. 4 in Buffalo, as the Canadiens now find themselves in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, just ahead of the Lightning (19-16-3), who have now dropped five of their last six games.
Theodore erased all doubt concerning his complete recovery from hisinjury by kicking away all but three of Tampa Bay's 44 shots, including eight coming courtesy of good buddy and longtime rival Vincent Lecavalier. Despite having not seen action since suffering the injury on Dec. 15 in Edmonton, Theodore delivered once of his best efforts of the year for his 14th win of the season.
Pierre Dagenais did his part by notching the game-winner halfway through the third period when he blasted a slapshot past Lightning goalie John Grahame for his fifth goal of the season.
Special teams also played a role in tonight's victory with the Canadiens killing off all five Tampa Bay power-plays despite the Lightning having scored at least once with the man advantage in 11 of their last 12 games.
In addition, Montreal made the most of its opportunities with the man advantage against the league's least penalized team. Sheldon Souray, who snapped a 26-game goal-scoring drought, and Richard Zednik both tallied with the extra attacker. The Lightning have now allowed 12 power-play goals in their last six games.
Jan Bulis, centering Zednik and Alex Kovalev, scored the Canadiens' other goal. With Kovalev behind the net, Bulis took a pass from Kovalev in the slot and beat Grahame for the only tally of the opening period.
Lecavalier, Pavel Kubina and Ryan Craig lit the lamp for the defending Stanley Cup champions, who are now 1-7-1 against Northeast Division foes this season.
The Canadiens will end their brief tour of Florida on Friday when they visit the Panthers before closing out 2005 in Carolina Saturday night.
NOTES: Aside from the change in goal, Claude Julien went with the same lineup that took to the ice Monday in Atlanta, as Saku Koivu (groin), Radek Bonk (groin) and Tomas Plekanec (knee) remained sidelined...The Canadiens are now 6-0-1 when Alex Kovalev collects at least two points in a game, as he picked up another assist on Souray's marker...It was the Canadiens' 15th one-goal win this season. They now move ahead of Nashville and Buffalo, with 14 apiece...
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com