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Byfuglien's slapper knocks off Habs in OT

by Arpon Basu /
MONTREAL – Ondrej Pavalec had to keep his head on a swivel long enough to allow Dustin Byfuglien to score yet another big goal for the Atlanta Thrashers.

Byfuglien scored at 3:43 of overtime to move into a tie for the League-lead with his sixth game-winner and Pavelec made 47 saves to give Atlanta a 4-3 win against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on Sunday afternoon.

It was the seventh time this season Pavelec has faced at least 40 shots and he improved his record in those games to 5-1-1, winning the last five times it’s happened.

"They're shooting from everywhere," said Pavelec, who improved his save percentage to .936, second-highest in the NHL. "They're shooting from the boards, from the corner, from behind the net trying to find a guy in front of the net. That's their style. It's a big win for us. The guys helped a lot by getting the rebounds and making it easy on me."

The Thrashers (21-15-6) still haven't won in regulation time in seven games after a stretch where Atlanta earned at least a point in 14 of 16 games (12-2-2).

It looked as though the Thrashers were going to get that regulation win until they allowed Brian Gionta to tie the game with just over five minutes to play in the third.

But when P.K. Subban took a hooking penalty on Rich Peverley in overtime, it was Byfuglien's time to shine, firing a slap shot past Carey Price for his League-leading third overtime goal of the season.

"I just buried the head, aimed for the back of the net and hope it goes in," Byfuglien said.

The legend of Byfuglien simply continued to grow as he increased his League-lead among defensemen and team lead in points (41), goals (16) and shots on goal (166).

Andrew Ladd, Evander Kane and Peverley got the other goals for the Thrashers, with Peverley scoring his sixth in nine career games against Montreal.

He has 45 goals in 227 career games against the rest of the League.

The Canadiens (21-16-3) played for the first time in front of their home fans since general manager Pierre Gauthier's holiday makeover, acquiring defenseman James Wisniewski from the New York Islanders on Dec. 28, shipping out fan favorite Maxim Lapierre to the Anaheim Ducks on New Year's Eve, and calling up the American Hockey League's leading scorer, David Desharnais, for his season debut Sunday.

Wisniewski continued to make a major impact in his third game with his new team, notching two assists to give him points on five of the last six goals the Canadiens have scored over the past two games.

And they've been important points, scoring the overtime winner in Florida on New Year's Eve and getting an assist on the tying goal by Gionta at 15:13 of the third period.

"He's got great vision and he has a good shot," Canadiens coach Jacques Martin said. "He really helps in the offensive part of the game."

The new-look Canadiens suffered from the same issues that have plagued them while compiling a 3-8-1 record over their last 12 games: costly turnovers, shaky goaltending and a lack of finish on the offensive end.

Price was named the Canadiens player of the month for December prior to the game, but with four goals allowed on 28 shots, his record dropped to 2-7-1 over his last 10 starts with a save percentage of only .870.

Price has started 36 of the Canadiens 40 games thus far, and Martin says he could use some time to get back to basics in practice.

With Montreal off until hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday, that time is now.

"We've had a lot of games lately, so I think this break is going to be good," Martin said of Price. "It will be a good opportunity for him to work on some fundamentals. I know when I spent time in Denver with Patrick Roy, he used to spend a lot of time working on his positioning. I think Carey’s been good since the beginning. Now we have a chance to get two good practices."

The Canadiens got goals from Gionta, Tomas Plekanec and Subban, but were frustrated by Pavelec on the great majority of their season-high total of 50 shots on goal.

It was the second straight game Montreal established a new season high for shots after firing 48 shots on Tomas Vokoun in Florida, but the Canadiens have only scored six goals on their 98 shots in the last two games.

"We can take a lot of positive things out of tonight," Wisniewski said. "The last game we had close to 50 shots. If we're going to keep peppering goalies with 50 shots, we're going to come out on top more than we're not."

With the game tied 2-2 heading into the dying moments of the second period, the Canadiens fell into a trap that has become common of late when Ladd converted a generous Price rebound with only 15.3 seconds remaining to put Atlanta ahead 3-2.

It was the sixth time in their last 13 games the Canadiens have allowed a goal with less than a minute remaining in a period.

It looked as though it would cost them, with Pavelec playing as well as he was, but the Canadiens were able to get the equalizer when Gionta converted a rebound of a Wisniewski point shot to send the game to overtime.

Peverley got Atlanta on the board at 6:20 of the first with a deft move across the Canadiens crease, slipping a backhand through Price's pads for his ninth of the season.

Plekanec got it back before the end of the period, taking a Wisniewski feed and splitting the Thrashers defense before beating Pavelec for his 12th of the season at 17:56 for a power play goal.

Kane scored his 13th of the season at 5:42, batting a puck past Price while lying flat on the ice, but Subban tied it with another power play goal at 10:25 of the second.

"I don't know, maybe in minor hockey, but not in the NHL," Kane said when asked if he's ever scored laying down before. "I just kind of saw the puck squeak out. I wanted to get as hard a whack as I could on it, and it wound up going in the net. I didn't even know it went in. I was probably on the ice for a good 10 seconds, and when I got up I saw everyone was celebrating. I didn't even hear a whistle."

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