-- Saku Koivu raised his arms in celebration, relief more than joy oozing from the captain's body after his overtime goal gave his Montreal Canadiens a much-needed 4-3 victory over the rival Toronto Maple Leafs.
|Mikael Tellqvist turned aside 16 shots on Saturday.
In a matchup that pitted two struggling clubs free-falling down the Eastern Conference standings, this wasn't just another game in a long season. It felt like Game 7 of a playoff series.
"The way things have gone for us, yeah, it was a bigger game than just one of 82 games on the schedule,'' said Koivu, who scored two goals and added an assist. "Every time you play against Toronto the atmosphere is different, the attention is different. So for sure these two points mean a lot to us.''
The Habs moved into a tie with Toronto at 52 points, tied with Atlanta for the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference.
Koivu scored on the power-play 1:04 into overtime, stuffing a shot from the side of the net past Mikael Tellqvist after Alexander Khavanov took a holding penalty in the extra session.
It was Toronto's eighth consecutive loss. This was a game the Leafs desperately wanted before they head out a three-game road trip, which begins Monday at Florida.
"We got a point tonight but we needed two and we know that,'' said Toronto defenceman Ken Klee, who tied the game 3-3 late in the third period. "Hopefully we're going to start to go in the right direction. We need to.''
Alexei Kovalev and Jan Bulis also scored for the Canadiens (23-20-6), who wrapped up a gruelling six-game road trip at 2-4-0.
"Everybody showed up tonight,'' said Kovalev. "This was a long road trip and we wanted to finish it the right way.
"We're fighting for the eighth spot in the playoffs and that's what we did tonight, we fought. We knew how important this game was.''
Khavanov and Darcy Tucker also scored for the Leafs (24-22-4), who appeared to lose Tucker late in the third period with a right knee injury. Tucker, who had just returned after missing six games with a rib injury, returned to the game after a quick trip to the dressing room.
Theodore was back in net after backup Cristobal Huet started two straight, and the former Hart and Vezina Trophy winner was sharp, which isn't something that can be said for most of his starts this season.
Theodore's highlights Saturday included a flashy toe save on Clarke Wilm, a huge pad save on Tucker form in-close and a stop on Jeff O'Neill from in close. He stopped 21 shots.
"I had a feeling about Jose,'' said GM/head coach Bob Gainey. "A couple of weeks ago Jose came in and played real well in back-to-back wins for us. And we got bombed out West in a couple of games and he happened to be in net but it wasn't entirely his fault.
"But he needed a little time to regroup. I thought Saturday night against the Leafs, and a team that's right beside us in the standings, that's the time you want to get your top player on the ice.''
Tellqvist got the start for Toronto, perhaps a sign of things to come, in favour of the struggling Ed Belfour. And Tellqvist was solid despite allowing four goals on 20 shots, looking confident and controlling his rebounds.
He made a stylish glove save on Michael Ryder after the Habs winger broke in alone midway through the third period and the crowd of 19,541 showed its approval.
Koivu and Bulis had scored 35 seconds apart midway through the third period to give Montreal a 3-2 lead before Klee tied it at 15:42 of the period with his third of the season, his slapshot from the high slot beating Theodore glove side to send the game into overtime.
Koivu pulled the Habs back to 2-2 at 10:40 of the third period, his backhand from the slot bouncing off Alexander Steen's skates and between Tellqvist's legs.
Bulis gave Montreal its first lead of the game less than a minute later when his backhand from the high slot beat Tellqvist high on the glove side, a goal that brought hundreds of Habs fans out of their seats screaming in joy.
Khavanov put Toronto ahead 2-1 with a fluky goal 56 seconds from the end of the second period, his rebound shot from a tough angle bouncing off Habs defenceman Craig Rivet and into the net.
Kovalev had tied it 1-1 just 1:12 into the second period, his powerful wrist shot from a tight angle beating Tellqvist just inside the far post, a shot the Swedish Olympian probably should have stopped by coming out and playing his angles better.
Tucker rammed home a rebound during a 5-on-3 power play for Toronto at 11:19 of the first period.
Notes: All five games between the two clubs this season have been decided by one goal and three of them were overtime affairs ... First-line winger Richard Zednik was a surprise healthy scratch for Montreal, coach/GM Bob Gainey sending a message to the underperming Slovak. Defenceman Mark Streit, a Swiss Olympian, was also scratched for the Habs ... Out for Toronto was defencemen Bryan McCabe (groin), Aki Berg (ribs) and Carlo Colaiacovo (concussion) as well as forward Eric Lindros (wrist). Winger Mariusz Czerkawski and tough guy Wade Belak were healthy scratches.