OTTAWA - Daniel Alfredsson was happy to see the Ottawa Senators battle
back to defeat the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday, but sad to see the contest
have to come to an end.
"Overall, I think it was a heck of a game. It was up-tempo, both teams played really well. We were lucky to come out on top," the Senators captain said
after his team rallied from a goal down with just more than five minutes to
play and escaped with a 3-1 victory.
In a thrilling game punctuated by plenty of end-to-end action and
spectacular goaltending and played before a sold-out Scotiabank Place audience of 20,065, Alfredsson scored twice, once into an empty net, and Chris Neil notched the go-ahead goal with 3?? minutes left in regulation time.
The comeback spoiled the afternoon for the Canadiens, who led 1-0 on a
first-period power-play goal from Andrei Markov and a standout performance from goaltender Cristobal Huet.
Huet denied Ottawa time and again, including a save on a second-period penalty shot attempt by Alfredsson, in a performance that teammate Chris Higgins hailed as the best he's seen from his goaltender.
"He played absolutely phenomenal," Higgins said of Huet, who finished with 34 saves. "I was just sitting on the bench a couple of times with an open mouth. He deserved a lot better than what he got today."
Not to be outdone, Martin Gerber made 28 saves for Ottawa (14-2-0), which rebounded from a 4-1 loss on Thursday against the Washington Capitals.
The Senators avoided losing back-to-back regular-season games in regulation for the first time since Dec. 19 and 21, 2006, a stretch that covers 62 contests.
"(Huet) was unbelievable, but don't overlook our goaltender, he was unbelievable, too," said Neil, who went from goat for being in the box when Markov scored to hero. "They had a lot of odd-man rushes."
Mike Fisher and Dany Heatley each added a pair of assists for the Senators.
The Canadiens (9-4-3) had their two-game win streak stopped.
"To find a way to score late and then win the game a they're good offensively," Huet said of the Senators. "It's just a pain to lose like this.
"We played very hard. It's not a good feeling obviously, but we skated with them, we outskated them in the first period. It's good for our confidence
to know we can play with the best in the east."
Ottawa was without centre Jason Spezza for the sixth straight game because of a groin pull, but defenceman Anton Volchenkov, who was forced out of
Thursday's loss to Washington after being hit in the leg with a shot, was back.
For the Canadiens, right-winger Guillaume Latendresse returned after
sitting out the previous game with a sore lower back while left-winger Steve Begin didn't dress because of a charley horse.
Habs fans turned out in full force for the afternoon contest, making Scotiabank Place feel more like the Bell Centre at times and the charged
atmosphere made for few whistles and plenty of end-to-end action from the opening faceoff.
Even a pair of traditional non-fighters like Montreal captain Saku Koivu and Ottawa right-winger Patrick Eaves got caught up in the excitement, dropping the gloves late in the first period - although they only received a double-roughing minors for their efforts.
"I think it fired up our guys more than anything to see Saku stepping up against a guy like that," Canadiens defenceman Mike Komisarek said.
Markov provided the lone goal of the opening frame while, with Neil off for a delay of game call, he wired a shot from the blue-line over Gerber's shoulder.
In the second, Huet started to steal the show when robbed Randy Robitaille with a glove save during a Senators' power-play and then stopped Alfredsson
more than once from point-blank range.
Alfredsson was awarded a penalty shot after he was tripped by the slide of Montreal blue-liner Patrice Brisebois midway through the period, but Huet
turned away his deke attempt.
But just when it looked like the day belonged to Montreal, Alfredsson took a pass from Heatley in the slot and beat Huet with 5:10 remaining.
It was Alfredsson's team-high 12th goal of the season.
"It was frustrating at times. Huet played well and we had plenty of chances and not to see them go in," Gerber said. "It was good the way we came out
in the third. We kept going at it and it was really nice to see that first goal
Neil then struck from a similar spot at the 16:30 mark to put Ottawa in the ahead.
"We were able to get some good chances," Alfredsson said. "(Neil) had a couple of chances earlier. Him scoring that goal was big for our team."
Notes: Fisher appeared in his 400th NHL game. ... Ottawa is off until
Thursday when it plays host to the Buffalo Sabres. ... Alfredsson's next game will be his 800th in the league. ... The Canadiens travel to Toronto to take on the Maple Leafs on Tuesday. ... Ottawa right-winger Brian McGrattan and Montreal defenceman Josh Gorges were healthy scratches.