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Habs ride Halak to another win

by Brian Hunter
Jaroslav Halak wasn't the young Montreal Canadiens goaltender getting the bulk of the attention when this season began. He's now the man of the moment.

Halak made 44 saves Saturday night, included all 20 shots he faced during the third period, and the Canadiens had a three-goal first period for the second night in a row as they held off the San Jose Sharks for a 3-2 win at the Bell Centre.

Defenseman Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges scored 2:22 apart and captain Saku Koivu got what turned out to be the game-winner -- but Halak stole the show in winning his fourth start in a row. It was the third time this month the 23-year-old from Slovakia has made at least 44 saves in leading Montreal to a victory.

Carey Price emerged as the Canadiens' starting goalie heading down the stretch last season and into the playoffs. The 21-year-old Price was on an 8-0-4 run before an ankle injury in late December shut him down for a few weeks, and he's just 2-8-1 since returning. That has led to an increased workload for Halak, who has responded.

"I started being tired in the third period at the end, but right now I'm not tired because we got two points and it's a great feeling," Halak said.

Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton scored goals 49 seconds apart early in the middle period to put the Sharks back in the game, but Halak denied them repeatedly over the final 38 minutes. San Jose fell into a tie with Boston for the Presidents' Trophy lead with 93 points.

"Credit Halak, he was great," said Sharks goalie Brian Boucher, who made 18 saves. "On the back end of back-to-back games, you figure that maybe you can get them and they'll tire out but he stood tall in there. He did a great job, and he's probably the main reason why they won the game."

San Jose was assessed only one minor penalty, but it led to the game's opening goal. After Christian Ehrhoff was sent off for hooking midway through the first, Markov scored his ninth of the season at 11:05. Tomas Plekanec and Mathieu Schneider drew assists, giving Schneider 3 goals and 3 assists in six games since coming over from Atlanta.

"Since he came in, we started playing better," Halak said of Schneider, who's in his second hitch with the Habs. "He's great on the power play. He's got the hands and he's a smart player, he's got a lot of experience. He was a big key for us tonight."

Gorges, who broke into the NHL with the Sharks, converted Matt D'Agostini's pass into the slot for Montreal's second goal. Koivu made it 3-0 with 2:13 to play in the first when he scored off a cross-ice feed from Markov.

It was the second night in a row the Canadiens scored three times in the third period. On Friday, they connected three times in a 2:04 span to overcome a 2-0 deficit in a 4-3 overtime win at Philadelphia.

The Sharks, playing for the third time, found their legs in the second period.

Montreal defenseman Mike Komisarek took an interference penalty half a minute into the period and the Sharks quickly got on the board. Halak left the right post unguarded as Pavelski found a loose puck at his feet in the goalmouth and swept it into the open side of the net at 1:06. Moments later, Patrick Marleau set up Thornton as he drove the slot and beat Halak to cut the Canadiens' lead to a single goal.

"We faced a really good team tonight and I don't think we played our best," Koivu said. "The first half was better but then we were kind of too passive in the second half."

A hooking penalty to D'Agostini later in the second gave San Jose another power play and a chance to tie the score, but Marc-Edouard Vlasic missed a wide-open net by shooting high.

"We thought we were going to get that third one," Pavelski said. "It didn't happen in the second, we thought in the third period for sure. We played right until the end. We would have liked to put a stronger push in that last minute but we didn't get it."

Material from wire services and broadcast media was used in this report.

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