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Halak's 45 saves lead Canadiens past Canucks 3-2

by John Kreiser

Just call Jaroslav Halak "The Stopper."

Given his first chance this season to start after losing a game, Halak made 45 saves as the Montreal Canadiens edged Vancouver 3-2 on Tuesday night, ending the Canucks' seven-game winning streak.

Sergei Kostitsyn and Maxim Lapierre scored in the first period for Montreal, and Tomas Plekanec beat Roberto Luongo midway through the third to give the Canadiens a two-goal lead. Halak did the rest, stopping 12 shots in the first period, 14 in the second and 19 of 20 in the third.

''I don't know what the final shot total was -- 45 or 50, somewhere in that range -- but he stood on his head and made a lot of second and third saves for us,'' Canadiens forward said.

Halak, who stopped 34 shots in Saturday's 3-2 overtime loss in Ottawa, got a start after a loss for the first time in 10 such occasions this season.

"I was aware of that," said Halak, who will play for Slovakia at the Winter Olympics later this month. ''I knew that was my first start after I lost a game this season and I didn't change anything. I just wanted to prepare for the game the same way as for the game before and just try and do my best.''

Montreal had lost three in a row and was 2-4-2 in its previous eight games.

The Canucks got power-play goals from Mikael Samuelsson in the first period and Ryan Kesler in the third as they fell to 1-1-0 on their NHL-record 14-game road trip.

Canucks coach Alain Vigneault couldn't find much wrong with his team's effort.

''Hockey is a great game and I thought that was a hard-fought game by both teams tonight,'' Vigneault said. ''The difference was we weren't able to bury some of the grade-A chances that we had 5-on-5 and the best player on the ice tonight -- without a doubt -- was their goaltender, and he kept the puck out and they won the game.''

Luongo, who was pulled after allowing three first-period goals in Toronto on Saturday, stopped 25 of 28 shots.

He used his left pad to deny Plekanec's first shot on a backhand, but the Montreal center scored to put the Canadiens up 3-1 at 9:14 of the third period on a second-effort shot that Luongo got a piece of but couldn't stop.

''Unfortunately, that last one I stopped the first four (shots), I just couldn't get - I got a piece of the fifth one, but not enough,'' Luongo said.

Kesler made it close at 14:10 when he batted home his 14th of the season from the edge of the crease. The Canucks pulled Luongo in the final minute and buzzed the Canadiens' net, but Alex Burrows was penalized for interfering with Halak with 39 seconds remaining.

"Obviously we'd like to tighten up defensively, but we had a lot of chances tonight," Kesler said. "We threw everything at the net we had, not just chances but grade-A chances, and their goalie stood on his head and stole a game tonight."

The Canadiens were without leading goal-scorer Mike Cammalleri for the first time this season. He will miss at least six weeks after injuring his knee in the loss to Ottawa -- meaning his teammates will have to make up for the missing production.

''I guess everybody had to step up their game and that's what we did,'' said Plekanec, who leads the Canadiens with 55 points.

Kostitsyn gave Montreal a 1-0 lead with his second goal of the season at 5:56. He took a pass from Benoit Pouliot on the right side, cut across to the slot and beat Luongo with a low wrist shot.

Samuelsson's slapper from the point at 8:26 during a 4-on-3 power play tied the game, Lapierre knocked the rebound of Mathieu Darche's shot into the left side of the net at 18:04.

''We knew he was going to give rebounds in the slot,'' Lapierre said. ''We looked at the video before the game and we tried to shoot at his pads and skates, and that's what happened on that goal.''

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

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