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Halak and Canadiens blank Canucks 3-0

by John Kreiser
Jaroslav Halak is getting his chance to be a starting goaltender in the NHL. He's making the most of the opportunity.

Halak stopped all 34 shots he faced Tuesday night as the Montreal Canadiens blanked the Vancouver Canucks 3-0 for their second-straight victory. Halak has been in goal for both games, and has stopped 78 of 81 shots.

A day earlier, coach Guy Carbonneau told reporters he had given Carey Price enough chances and that he would ride Halak as long as he keeps winning. Halak responded with what he called the best game of his NHL career thus far.

"I'm not looking at what's in the newspapers, I'm just trying to focus on the game," the 23-year-old said. "It's just nice to win two in a row. It's been a while."

The victory ended a drought against the Canucks in which they Canadiens were 0-10 with one tie. It was Montreal's first home win against Vancouver in four tries this century.

The loss ended Vancouver's four-game winning run and was only the second loss in 10 games for the Canucks. Montreal native Roberto Luongo, who faced only 16 shots, had his eight-game win streak snapped, leaving him one short of the team record set by Dan Cloutier in 2002.

"It was really an uneventful night for me -- I was pretty bored," said Luongo, who shut out the Canadiens on his last visit two seasons ago. "We played hard and spent most of the night in their zone."

It was the first appearance in Montreal for Vancouver forward Mats Sundin, who was booed on his first shift and repeatedly for the rest of the night. Sundin, Toronto's longtime captain, was courted by the Canadiens before signing with the Canucks at midseason.

"It hasn't really changed since all the years I played here with Toronto," Sundin said of the reception. "It's been a great rivalry here all the years with Toronto, and coming in before that with the Quebec Nordiques, playing the Canadiens. To me it's one of my favorite buildings to play in on the road. It's a lot of fun. It's always a great atmosphere, a playoff type of hockey atmosphere, and it was the same tonight, so it was a lot of fun out there.

"I thought we played a good game, to be honest," Sundin added. "We've been on the road for almost 10 days and we came out with that kind of effort. But it was all missed opportunities tonight."

Halak was the difference. He posted his first shutout since last March 15 and the fourth of his career. Halak got some help from the goal post on Kevin Bieksa's blast during a two-man Vancouver advantage in the opening period and twice stopped the Canucks on breakaways. He also got a helping hand from defenseman Patrice Brisebois, who swept the puck off the goal line after a shot got between Halak's pads.

"That was the best save of the game," Halak said. "I told him thanks."

Halak has been waiting for his chance. He's had some good moments in the previous two seasons, but got into only a total of 22 games. This season, he's already played in 26, but has managed to win more than he lost despite looking decidedly shaky on several occasions.

This wasn't one of them.

"The way it's been going the last few weeks, we need someone to come in and be strong every night," Carbonneau said. "He came into a tough situation and mostly, he showed his teammates he really wanted to win this game."

Tomas Plekanec put Montreal ahead at 10:42 of the first period when he stepped out of the penalty box just in time to take Saku Koivu's pass and beat Luongo on a breakaway. Plekanec helped make it 2-0 when Andrei Markov redirected his pass into the open left side of the net for a power-play goal at 16:08 of the second period.


After Halak held off the Canucks in a third period that saw Vancouver outshot the Canadiens 13-3, Maxim Lapierre iced the win with an empty-netter.

Halak can expect to start again Friday night against Philadelphia -- and if he's ever going to grab the No. 1 job, now is his opportunity.

"He's been waiting for the chance for a long time," Carbonneau said. "It's unfortunate for someone like (No. 1 goalie) Carey Price, but hopefully Halak will grab the bull by the horns and win us five, six or seven games in a row."

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

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