The Montreal Canadiens
are playing so well that they’re even surprising themselves.
Andrei Kostitsyn’s power-play goal gave Montreal a 2-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils at the Bell Centre on Saturday night — moving the Canadiens past New Jersey into first place in the Eastern Conference.
“It is a pleasant surprise for us and for a lot of people," said captain Saku Koivu, who said during the preseason that his team might be good enough to make the playoffs but wasn’t considered a favorite to win the Stanley Cup. "There were some question marks for this team because of the young players coming from the minors, but those guys have done an excellent job coming in here and wanting a big role, not being happy just to be in the lineup."
Kostitsyn and his younger brother Sergei are two of those players, and they combined to produce the game-winner. Sergei had an assist on his brother’s goal while their parents watched from the stands.
"I'm sure they're happy," Andrei Kostitsyn said.
Mark Streit opened the scoring 6:11 into the second period for the Canadiens, who won their third in a row and now have 81 points, one more than the Devils and Ottawa Senators. It’s the first time the Canadiens have been first in the conference after the All-Star break since March 1993 — the last time they won the Stanley Cup.
"We played really good hockey in the first half of the season," said Habs coach Guy Carbonneau, the captain of that 1993 team. "But ever since Christmas, we've been playing really great hockey."
The Devils had been playing good hockey until the past two nights. They lost 4-0 at home to Washington on Friday and managed only a second-period goal by Brian Gionta against Carey Price, who stopped 31 shots.
"They didn't give us much,” said Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, who fell to 34-14-5 against Montreal. “We barely had three or four really good scoring chances on Price. We're just having problems scoring goals and creating chances of late, and it was the same thing tonight.
"But it was a better effort from us — just not good enough to play a team that's pretty hot right now in Montreal."
Price is making GM Bob Gainey look good. He’s 3-0 since Gainey sent starting goaltender Cristobal Huet to Washington on Tuesday, allowing four goals on 92 shots. He said playing with first place in the conference on the line wasn’t a big deal.
“It's just another regular-season game,” he said. “The real season starts after the 82 games are over. That'll be fun."
Bruins 3, Thrashers 2, SO | Video
The best shot sometimes isn’t the perfect one. So it was for Phil Kessel, who nearly flubbed his shootout attempt, only to see the puck trickle into the net for what turned out to be the winning goal.
"Kessel lost it off his stick, he just whiffed at it," Atlanta goaltender Johan Hedberg said. "That wasn't what he wanted to do, and it screwed me up."
After Kessel scored in the second round of the shootout, Boston goaltender Tim Thomas stopped Atlanta’s Erik Christensen and Ilya Kovalchuk as the Bruins extended their unbeaten streak in regulation to eight (7-0-1) and took sole possession of sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
"I think everybody's in a playoff mode now," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "Every team that's in the race is thinking that way. And there doesn't seem to be many teams packing it in."
Boston’s Glen Murray opened the scoring at 6:06, but Kovalchuk tied it 35 seconds later when he scored on a penalty shot that was awarded after he was hauled down by defenseman Dennis Wideman.
The Thrashers took the lead at 17:18 of the second period when Jim Slater came down on a 2-on-1 with Eric Perrin and picked the corner with a wrist shot.
Atlanta missed a chance to extend its lead in the third period when Boston defenseman Aaron Ward knocked Mark Recchi's stick out of his hands as he faced an open net.
"I was just trying to get there as quick as I could and I got there, but he whacked my stick out of my hand and I wasn't able to control it," Recchi said.
Rookie David Krejci forced the overtime when he scored at 11:53, giving him a three-game goal-scoring streak that began when he scored his first NHL goal against Carolina.
“That first goal gave him a lot of confidence," Julien said. "Now he's finding the back of the net. It's tough when you get to February and you haven't scored a goal."
Kovalchuk nearly won it in overtime when he stole the puck after Thomas left the net to clear it. But Thomas scrambled back and made the save.
Flyers 4, Islanders 1 | Video
Martin Biron and the Flyers spoiled Fan Appreciation Day at the Nassau Coliseum — and put a major crimp in the Islanders’ playoff hopes in the process.
Biron stopped 33 shots and Jeff Carter had a goal and an assist as the Flyers moved ahead of Buffalo into eighth place in the East. The Islanders fell four points behind the Flyers.
Carter scored the only goal of the first period, but made the biggest play of the game midway though the third period while the Flyers were leading 2-1 and killing a penalty. He broke in and got a shot that was stopped by goaltender Rick DiPietro. The puck trickled behind the net, where Carter retrieved it and threw it in front. The puck ticked teammate Mike Knuble, deflected off DiPietro’s skate and went into the net to give the Flyers a 3-1 lead.
"I don't know," Knuble said when asked how the puck went into the net. "I turned out of the way and started to turn and head back. I felt it hit me and rattle off my stick. I just assumed it was behind the net or something."
It was the League-worst 13th shorthanded goal allowed by the Islanders and the 13th scored by the Flyers.
“It seems like their penalty killers are jumping on the top guy, and that's happened a few times to us," said Isles forward Miroslav Satan, who lost the puck at the left point to start the play.
Bill Guerin’s power-play goal 8:30 into the second tied the score at 1-1. It was Guerin’s 20th of the season; he tied an NHL record by reaching the 20-goal mark with his sixth team. Ray Sheppard is the only other player to score 20 goals for six teams.
"I don't know if it's good or bad," Guerin said. "Maybe it's a good level of consistency over the years. Part of my job is to score goals. It's my mind-set. I'm just fortunate to be able to play on some great teams with great players."
Braydon Coburn put the Flyers ahead to stay at 14:24 with a one-timer from the right circle on Philadelphia’s only power play of the day. Scottie Upshall added an empty-netter with 26.4 seconds left to give the Flyers their third straight victory after 10 consecutive losses. The Flyers also snapped a team record-tying 16-game streak of scoring three goals or fewer.
"We lost 10 in a row and we just couldn't get those breaks," Knuble said. "Now pucks are hitting guys and going in."
Hurricanes 5, Lightning 1 | Video
With injuries, illnesses and trades, the Hurricanes should wear their names on the front of their jerseys rather than the back — the better to make introductions. But all the new faces continue to come together on the ice, where Carolina got two goals from waiver pickup Sergei Samsonov and routed the Lightning to complete a 4-1-1 homestand.
''With the system we play, it's pretty easy for guys to come in and be comfortable,'' said mainstay Eric Staal, who had a goal and two assists. ''You know you're going to have to skate, and move your feet, and attack, attack, attack.''
Samsonov, picked up on waivers from Chicago on Jan. 8 after going scoreless with the Blackhawks, got his 10th and 11th goals since coming to Carolina. Another ex-Blackhawk, Tuomo Ruutu, got his first goal since coming over at Tuesday’s trading deadline.
Ruutu joined the line of Staal and Erik Cole, taking the place of the injured Ray Whitney.
''I only had one practice with those guys,'' Ruutu said. ''It's almost like the playoffs for us now.''
The Hurricanes won for the fourth time in five games to remain in control of the Southeast Division. With 73 points, Carolina now leads Washington by five.
''You look at the standings every morning and know there are no bye games,'' Samsonov said. ''Every game is important.''
One of Tampa Bay’s deadline-day acquisitions, center Jeff Halpern, opened the scoring at 7:04 of the first period. Staal tied it less than four minutes later.
Another newcomer, defenseman Joe Corvo, scored 1:02 into the second period, just as a power play was ending, and Samsonov made it 3-1 at 10:01. Samsonov and Ruutu scored 1:58 apart in the third as the Lightning — the last-place team in the East — showed the effects of playing an overtime game at home on Friday.
''Right now, it's tough,'' forward Martin St. Louis said. ''We just can't cheat and expect it's going to come.''
Carolina controlled the final two periods, allowing Tampa Bay just four shots in the third.
''You knew they were playing the second night of a back-to-back, so we had to make sure we jumped on them,'' Staal said. ''It was solid. We skated very well.''
Maple Leafs 3, Capitals 2 | Video
Someone forgot to tell the Leafs that they were hopelessly out of the playoff race. Mats Sundin had a goal and two assists as Toronto won at Verizon Center to improve to 4-0-1 in its last five games.
The weary Leafs, who didn’t get to Washington until the early hours of the morning after Friday’s overtime loss at Tampa Bay, now have 68 points and are tied with Washington for 11th in the East, five points behind eighth-place Philadelphia.
''I think it's been really exciting the last month or so,'' Sundin said. ''Right now, we have a good mix, we have a good chemistry and we're playing a good system that fits us as a team.''
The loss was a painful one for the Caps, who also trail Southeast Division-leading Carolina by five points.
“We got outworked tonight in a game that we couldn’t get outworked,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It’s a hurtful loss. Give credit to the Leafs. But at the same time, we did things we aren’t supposed to do. We were sitting there drawing up stuff on how we played yesterday, to a tee, and today we’re all individuals. When you do that, you’re not going to have success.”
Alex Ovechkin’s first goal in eight games and League-high 49th of the season at 15:47 of the first period put the Caps ahead. Ovechkin fired a wrist shot from above the left circle through a screen and past Vesa Toskala.
But the Caps said they got out the system after taking the lead and started playing too individually.
''This is a lesson for us,'' Ovechkin said. ''We know how we have to play, and we started a little bit to change our game in the second period. We know what we have to do, and we just don't do it.''
A pair of shots by Sundin from the top of the circles led to a pair of second-period goals that gave Toronto the lead.
Sundin took a shot from the top of the left circle that Nik Antropov deflected up and over Olaf Kolzig for a power-play goal 1:06 into the second period. Sundin put the Leafs ahead at 10:51 when he beat Kolzig from the top of the right circle.
The Leafs’ captain set up Toronto’s third goal at 5:42 of the third period when he picked up a loose puck behind the Capitals' net and passed to Alex Steen, who beat Kolzig from the lower left circle.
''He’s been playing phenomenal,'' Steen said of Sundin. ''Just the play on my goal, you kind of know that he knows where you are and you’re going to get the puck.''
Washington picked up its play and got within 3-2 at 9:38 when Viktor Kozlov fired a rebound off Toskala’s glove. But though the Caps controlled the action the rest of the way, they couldn’t get the tying goal.
“The first two periods, we probably didn’t play as well as we did last night,” Kolzig said. “I thought in the third period we did a pretty good job. We were desperate, and it’s too bad we didn’t have a few more minutes because they looked like they were out of gas and we just couldn’t get the equalizer.”
Predators 3, Stars 1 | Video
A couple days of practice did wonders for Nashville’s leaky defense as the Predators shut down Dallas.
''We worked on a little bit of responsibility in every area,'' said Nashville coach Barry Trotz, whose team had allowed 14 goals in its previous two games. ''Our mindset wasn't right. There was not enough detail in our game. We needed a couple of days of good practice.''
David Legwand broke a scoreless tie 47 seconds into the third period and Nashville added two more goals in less than a minute as the Predators snapped their three-game losing streak. Dan Ellis stopped 24 shots as the Predators moved into a three-way tie with Colorado and Nashville for the last two playoff spots in the West. All three teams have 74 points; Colorado has 34 wins, one more than Nashville and two more than Vancouver, which has two games in hand.
''It was a huge win for us,'' said Ellis, who also shut out the Stars on Dec. 31. ''The Dallas Stars are probably the best team in the League. Coming in here and getting a huge win shows we can beat anybody.''
The Stars routed Chicago 7-4 on Thursday as newcomer Brad Richards had five assists. There were no offensive fireworks against the Preds, as Mike Ribeiro scored Dallas’ only goal. The Stars lost for just the third time in 16 games and saw their four-game winning streak end. They remained three points behind Detroit for the top spot in the Western Conference.
''We got a little sloppy in the third and had a little letdown compared to the other night,'' said Richards, who was acquired from Tampa Bay at the trade deadline on Tuesday. ''It's been an up and down week.''
Legwand broke the scoreless tie when he beat Marty Turco from the right circle. Jordin Tootoo made it 2-0 at 7:53, again firing a shot from the right circle past Turco.
Ribeiro's 27th goal brought the Stars within one 30 seconds later, but Nashville stretched its advantage to 3-1 when J.P. Dumont scored his 24th goal at 8:46.
''It was definitely a better defensive effort,'' Predators captain Jason Arnott said. ''Luckily, we were able to capitalize on what they gave us.''
Sharks 2, Blues 0 | Video
San Jose may finally have found some help for All-Star goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. Brian Boucher, signed out of the minors earlier in the week, stopped all 23 shots he faced as the Sharks closed out an eight-game road trip with their fifth consecutive win.
Boucher, a former first-round draft pick and member of the NHL's all-rookie team in 1999-2000, had four shutouts for the AHL's Philadelphia Phantoms this season to earn another chance. He picked up his first NHL win since March 3, 2007, and his first shutout since Nov. 12, 2006.
''Whatever I can do here, I'm thrilled to be back in the NHL,'' Boucher said. ''If I can go in there and give Nabby some rest some nights and they have the confidence to do that, then great.”
It was only the third time this season that Nabokov didn’t start. The second was on Feb. 20, when rookie Thomas Greiss struggled in a 3-2 loss at New Jersey. Coach Ron Wilson indicated that Boucher’s arrival could mean a few more games off down the stretch.
''What I liked was how calm he was, which is a nice thing to have in a backup goalie,'' Wilson said. ''You would think he'd be a little bit nervous, especially with what each game means to us right now. I'd bet you his heart rate never got over 80.''
Joe Pavelski put the Sharks ahead to stay at 16:41 of the first period, beating Manny Legace with a slap shot from the left point during a power play. Mike Grier added a shorthanded goal 58 seconds into the third period.
Wilson also set a franchise record with his 193rd victory, passing Darryl Sutter with a game that he said was ''close to perfect'' considering the Sharks have been on the road so long.
''We got some great goaltending early from Brian until we found our bearings,'' Wilson said. ''Then I thought from the second period on we dominated the play pretty much.''
St. Louis, which entered tied for 12th in the Western Conference with 66 points, has been shut out twice during its current 0-5-1 slump and eight times overall.
''We can lose games and we can lose games where we feel like the effort wasn't strong enough,'' coach Andy Murray said. ''We know our opponents are very good, but that wasn't satisfactory, that's for sure.''
Near the end of the game, the Blues announced they had signed forward Brad Boyes to a long-term contract. The 25-year-old ex-Shark has a career-best 32 goals this season, though he’s scored just three in his last 17 games.
Avalanche 5, Kings 2 | Video
The Avs got two second-period goals from Ryan Smyth, but the veteran forward left the ice on a stretcher late in the period after Los Angeles defenseman Jack Johnson checked him into the glass at the end of the Avalanche bench. He laid motionless on the ice for several minutes as trainers raced to attend to him.
''It was scary,'' said Ian Laperriere, whose team snapped a four-game home losing streak. ''You hate seeing that happen. It's a bad feeling.''
The Avalanche reported that Smyth was conscious and walking, but was sent to a hospital for further examination.
''I saw him walking around, so that's great,'' defenseman Adam Foote said.
The win gave the Avs 74 points, tying them with Vancouver and Nashville for the last two playoff spots in the West. The Avs have 34 wins, Nashville has 33 and Vancouver has 32 — but has played two fewer games.
"We've had some pretty good comebacks and today we didn't need that, which is good," said captain Joe Sakic, whose goal early in the third period made it 4-1. "We don't want too many of those. We have to keep winning. It's great to get the win but we have some teams to catch and we have to keep winning like this."
Mike Cammalleri’s power-play goal at 3:37 of the second period put the Kings ahead, but Smyth tied it at 4:56 and put the Avs ahead to stay at 6:46.
Defenseman Ruslan Salei, one of two deadline-day acquisitions by Colorado, made it 3-1 at 10:33.
After Sakic made it 4-1, Rob Blake scored for Los Angeles before Andrew Brunette hit the empty net with 49.2 seconds remaining.
"We didn't have a break there tonight," Los Angeles coach Marc Crawford said. "We hit three posts in the second period, shots that clearly beat their goalie. They got two fortunate things. But you get your breaks when you work hard."
The Avalanche could soon be receiving a boost from Peter Forsberg, who went through a 60-minute workout session Saturday morning. The Swedish forward said he could possibly make his Colorado debut Tuesday night against Vancouver.
''Peter Forsberg at 80 percent is better than anybody,'' Laperriere said. ''He's so talented. It's better for him to take his time and come back when he's ready.''
Flames 3, Coyotes 1 | Video
Two Flames reached milestones as Calgary rode a fast start to a win in Phoenix that damaged the Coyotes’ playoff hopes. Curtis Joseph
stopped 16 shots for his 448th victory, moving him past Terry Sawchuk
into fourth place on the all-time list. Jarome Iginla
scored twice to tie Theo Fleury
’s team record of 364 goals.
Joseph, signed by the Flames in February, was playing only his fifth game, though he played 40 minutes in relief against Anaheim on Friday. He lost his shutout bid on a second-period goal by former teammate Shane Doan.
The win gave the Flames 77 points, tying them with Minnesota for the most in the Northwest Division, though the Wild have two more victories. Phoenix remained three points out of the last playoff berth in the Western Conference after losing for the fourth time in six games.
Joseph said getting the win for his team was his biggest concern, but passing Sawchuk was a thrill.
“First and foremost, it’s about the win and the task at hand,” he said. “But certainly to be mentioned with Terry Sawchuk is a great honor.
“He certainly is a legend. I asked Ted Lindsay about him when I was in Detroit, and Ted said for the first five years he was in the League, you could have thrown a handful of rice at him and he’d have caught every one.”
The Flames made it easy for Joseph by jumping to a quick 2-0 lead. Rhett Warrener scored his first goal of the season 1:23 into the game and Iginla beat Ilya Bryzgalov at 5:46 with a slap shot from the left circle during a power play.
“We were really concentrating on controlling the play in the first five minutes,” said Iginla.
Phoenix coach Wayne Gretzky wasn’t happy with his team’s poor start.
“We seemed to come into the game and stand around and wait to see what the opposition is going to do,” he said. “The work ethic and effort wasn’t there for the first 10 minutes of the hockey game.”
The Coyotes cut the lead in half at 12:02 of the second period when Doan skated out of the right-wing corner and slapped the puck behind Joseph while going down. It was Doan's 20th of the campaign, his eighth consecutive 20-goal season. The goal ended a sequence that saw the Flames almost score when Dustin Boyd’s shot nearly rolled over the goal line before being swept away by Phoenix defenseman Ed Jovanovski. Play continued until Doan’s goal, after which video review confirmed that Boyd’s shot had not completely crossed the goal line.
Iginla gave Calgary some insurance when he scored from the lower right circle with 8:41 remaining in the third period to tie Fleury’s team mark and reach the 40-goal mark for the third time in his career.
The longest active consecutive-games streak in the NHL ended at 453 when Calgary defenseman Cory Sarich was a healthy scratch.
Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media was used in this report.