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Kostitsyn leads Habs past Kings

by Arpon Basu

MONTREAL - Watching his team shut down the opposition, Montreal Canadiens coach Jacques Martin got a little case of déjà vu. And he liked what he saw.

Andrei Kostitsyn had a goal and an assist and Lars Eller got his first in a Canadiens uniform as Montreal extended the Los Angeles Kings' slump by beating them 4-1 Wednesday night at the Bell Centre.

"There's no doubt we played a strong game defensively, I thought our back pressure was good tonight, we came back hard in our defensive zone," Martin said. "It reminded me a little bit of our team in the playoffs (last season) with our commitment to play away from the puck. Usually when you do that you create some good scoring opportunities and get good production."

Montreal got just that, topping the three-goal mark for only the second time in 13 games as Michael Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec also scored for the Canadiens (14-7-1), who have won six of eight.

Minor league call-up Alec Martinez scored his first career goal for the Kings (13-8-0), who let down goalie Jonathan Bernier with a poor effort in his hometown debut.

"The outcome was unacceptable," said forward Ryan Smyth, who got a painful assist on the Martinez goal by taking a Justin Williams slap shot off his ankle. "Give them credit, they played hard from start to finish. But we have to play hard for 60 minutes."

Canadiens goalie Carey Price made 24 saves to improve his record to 13-7-1 and take over the League lead in wins, matching his total in 39 starts last season in the process.

"It's just a credit to our guys, really," Price said. "Everybody's on a roll right now, and everybody's doing what they have to do to get wins."

It was the 11th time in his 21 starts Price has limited the opposition to two goals or fewer, and the sixth time in his last eight starts. The only two times Price didn't pull it off in those eight starts were his only two losses over that span.

The Kings, meanwhile, have lost five of their last six games after starting the season with a 12-3-0 mark. While running up that record Los Angeles allowed three goals or more only five times, but they have now done it in six straight games, allowing 25 goals in the process.

Bernier, a native of nearby Laval, Que., made 29 saves with about 70 friends and family looking on from the stands, but his teammates mustered very little at the other end of the ice in the final game of an Eastern trip.

"That was probably the worst we've played in the last four or five games," defenseman Rob Scuderi said.

The Canadiens responded well to a stern message sent by Martin, who put his team through a grueling practice Tuesday after they blew a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2 in Philadelphia on Monday night. His players controlled the play for all 60 minutes, keeping the Kings on their heels and spending the bulk of their time in the offensive zone to avoid what would have been only the Canadiens second two-game losing streak of the season.

"We've rebounded with good performances all year long," Martin said. "Tonight we had four lines working hard and our defense and goalie who were excellent."

It was a big night for Eller, who received a loud ovation from the sellout crowd of 21,273 when he scored.

"Hopefully it doesn't take me 20 games to score another one," Eller said. "When the crowd supports you like that, you don't get a much better feeling than that. I've never had 22,000 people yelling when
I've scored before."

The key piece the Canadiens acquired in an offseason trade with St. Louis for playoff hero Jaroslav Halak, Eller has been getting closer and closer to scoring over the past few games.

When he finally did near the end of the second period, sliding a rebound inside the far post, Eller looked to the heavens before being mobbed by his teammates. Defenseman P.K. Subban was so happy for him, he nearly ripped his head off.

"I think you saw the whole bench get a lift and jump," Cammalleri said. "He's one of your teammates, when you're competing with each other every day you build intimate relationships and you feel each
other's happiness and you feel each other's pain. So for Lars to get the first one we were all happy for him, and he let the hockey gods know it by looking up."

Kostitsyn got his team-leading eighth goal of the year at 9:59 of the first after Subban broke up a 2-on-1 in his own end to trigger one for his own team. Kostitsyn kept it and fired a wrist shot between
Bernier's legs.

Cammalleri, who played the first five seasons of his career with the Kings, made it 2-0 with his seventh late in the first when his shot bounced off Kings defenseman Drew Doughty and past Bernier.

Martinez cut the lead to one on a second-period power play, grabbing a rebound of a shot that went off Smyth's ankle in front and rifling a backhand home at 1:57. But Plekanec got it back just over a minute later at 3:16, and Eller got the final goal of the game at 18:07 of the period to ice it for Montreal.

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