Leading by a goal in a game that saw the lead change twice in the first 58 minutes of play the Kings were unable to hold their lead, allowing two goals in the last two minutes and losing a heartbreaker to the host Canadiens, ending both their three-game winning streak and Montreal’s run of four straight losses.
Making the most of their chances in the early going, the Kings put two pucks behind Habs goaltender Carey Price. The first at 3:22 of the opening period, was called back after video review. Undaunted, the visitors, took advantage of a power play, a minute and a half later. With Robert Lang watching from the penalty box, Los Angeles took a 1-0 lead when Michal Handzus finished a play started by Dustin Brown and Jarret Stoll, putting the puck into the Montreal net.
Montreal showed more cohesion in the closing half f the period, with Thomas Plekanec potting his10th of the season while teammate Max Pacioretty and the Kings’ Wayne Simmonds were cooling their heels in the sin bin, each serving five for fighting.
Penalty trouble put the Kings behind the eight ball in the second period’s opening minutes. First Raitis Ivanans was thumbed to the penalty box for goaltender interference. Then Denis Gauthier, playing in front of a large contingent of friends and family was given five and tossed from the game for his hit on Habs defenceman, Josh Gorges, at the 3:50 mark, one that that left the rearguard reeling and sent him to the dressing room for repairs. Gorges, apparently recovered, returned to the ice within a few minutes.
Three seconds after Gauthier was ejected and with Montreal benefiting from a two-man advantage, captain, Saku Koivu, snapped the puck back to Andrei Kostitsyn off the draw, who wasted no time burying it behind Quick.
Dustin Brown’s marker at the 13:30 mark put him into the team’s 20-goal club alongside Alexander Frolov, making him the second member so far in 2008-09 and drew the Kings even again while Jarret Stoll’s 12th, on a pass from Kyle Calder, his second assist of the game, gave the visitors a lead for the second time.
An evenly match third period closed out the game, without either side soiling the score sheet until Montreal’s fourth line, the only one firing regularly on all cylinders for the past month, came through for the home team with Chris Higgins getting his sixth of the year on passes from linemates Maxim Lapierre and Tom Kostopoulos at the 18:07 mark of the closing frame.
A minute and a half later three players headed to the penalty box two were Kings – Calder for crosschecking and Brown, thumbed off for roughing, as was Montreal D-man Mike Komisarek.
Ten seconds later Andrei Markov found the back of the net for the sixth time this season eliminating the need for overtime and giving Montreal its first win in five games.
A visibly dejected goaltender Jonathan Quick was asked about the two that got by him late in the game.
“We were up 3-2, and we lost 4-3,” he sighed. “They’re the kind of goals you want to have back, especially the last one.”
Gauthier, who ended his night’s work early after hit crushing hit on Gorges, prompted discussion that he may be summoned to meet with NHL discipline prefect, Colin Campbell, and get to cool his heels on the sidelines for a few games afterwards. Coach Terry Murray doesn’t feel it should come to that.
“I saw the replay and it didn’t look like a dirty hit to me. Gaut’s coming in for a hit and Gorges is a little bit low. I’ll have to look at it again. It probably looks as if he left his feet on it, I don’t know if there was some momentum carrying through on the play,” he said.
“I think we played a good game,” he continued. “It’s a tough building to play in and we went up against a desperate team. Montreal lost its last four games and we came in after a hard day yesterday to play an early game today. We responded and played very hard.”
Higgins’ tying goal was also the subject to commentary.
"The tying goal is a penalty. Higgins throws Doughty down. It’s a penalty. I don’t get it,” Murray exclaimed. “It’s a wrestling move. I don’t get the non-call but you have to battle through it”
Asked how daunting a task it is for a young club to have to play the bulk of the remainder of he season on the road after a first half heavily skewed to home games Murray replied, “It’s a great learning time for a young team. It's part of the NHL – everybody has to play their 41games on the road and we happen to have more in the second half than at the start of the season.”
With the Bell Centre hosting another afternoon game tomorrow, the Kings will skate at the Habs new practice facility tomorrow.
Rookie center Oscar Muller has been cleared for contact by Kings medical personnel and will practice tomorrow without the yellow “no-hitting” jersey for the first time since playing against the Ranges on Dec. 17.
The CBS Line of Kyle Calder, Dustin Brown and Jarret Stoll continued to roll, picking up a total of six points and finishing a collective +4 on the day. The line has combined for 23 points (11-12=23) in the last five games. Calder has points in five straight (2-5=7), Brown has points in five straight (6-4=10) and Stoll has points in four straight (3-2=5).
Pennsylvania area native, John Zeiler, a scratch today, will be much more involved in tomorrow’s game. He’ll be cheering his Pittsburgh Steelers on in Super Bowl XLIII.
By Mike Wyman | Special to LAKings.com