and Tom Kostopoulos
turned what would have been a painful defeat for the Montreal Canadiens
into a stunning victory.
Kovalev’s goal with 28.6 seconds left in regulation forced overtime, and Kostopoulos banged in his own rebound 48 seconds into OT to give the Canadiens a 4-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night in the opener of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
''It's exciting,'' said Kostopoulos, a checker who has scored three postseason goals thus far. ''It was a weird game for us. We were expecting such intensity with both teams coming off the big Game 7s and I think it was a hard game for everyone to get into, for the crowd to get into.
“It's unbelievable how we came back twice to tie it up.''
The Flyers appeared to be on the way to a win after Joffrey Lupul, who got the series-winner in overtime against Washington on Tuesday, scored a power-play goal 19 seconds into the third period to break a 2-2 tie.
But after generating little pressure for most of the third period, Montreal got a final chance when Mike Richards was called for kneeing Kovalev with 1:09 left in regulation. With goaltender Carey Price on the bench, Saku Koivu won a faceoff in the circle to the left of Martin Biron and the puck trickled to Kovalev, who ripped a wrist shot from the circle high over Biron’s catching glove and inside the post to force overtime.
''The puck was in the scrum there and then all of a sudden it just came out,'' said Kovalev, who also scored a shorthanded goal late in the second period to tie it at 2-2. ''It was just perfect timing.''
The Canadiens caught a break on the faceoff when Flyers center Jeff Carter's stick broke as he lost the faceoff.
''It was a tough break but there's really not much you can do when you break your stick,'' Carter said. ''I don't even know where the puck went after that — obviously Kovalev got it, but there's not really much you can do.''
Kostopoulos got the winner on the first shift of overtime. Andrei Markov kept the puck in at the left point and fired a shot that Biron kicked out. But Kostopoulos picked up the rebound and took a shot that Biron stopped, then got his own rebound and banged it past Biron, triggering an eruption from the sellout crowd of 21,273 at the Bell Centre.
“Markov made a good play to get the puck on net,'' said Kostopoulos, who is in the playoffs for the first time in his six-year NHL career. ''Biron made a good save on the first shot and I was lucky to get the rebound.''
The Canadiens have gotten a lot of good work at both ends of the ice from Kostopoulos and linemates Bryan Smolinski and Steve Begin in the playoffs.
“Some players don't get a lot of attention,'' Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau said. ''They work in the shadows a bit, but they do a good job in a lot of things. They kill penalties, block shots. But that's one goal I think he'll remember.''
Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Saturday night in Montreal.
Flyers coach John Stevens wasn’t happy with the kneeing call against Richards or a second-period video review that allowed Kovalev’s shorthanded goal to stand. But he was extremely pleased with the way his weary team played.
''I'm very proud of the effort tonight,'' Stevens. ''It was our third game in four nights and it’s important for us to get some rest.
''I'm not making excuses, but I was really happy with the way we responded. From Marty (Biron) on out, it was a gutsy effort.''
Before Kovalev forced the extra period, it looked like Lupul — the overtime hero two nights earlier — would get the winner for the second straight game.
Lupul got his second goal of the playoffs when Price gloved but couldn’t hold defenseman Braydon Coburn’s slap shot from the right point. The puck popped into the air, hit the foot of Lupul, who was skating past the post to Price’s left, and deflected past the goaltender to put Philadelphia ahead. The goal was allowed to stand after a video review.
The Canadiens rarely tested Biron the rest of the way until Kovalev’s game-tying goal.
Montreal came out flying against a Philadelphia team that figured to be tired after playing Monday and Tuesday against Washington. The Canadiens had several good chances in the opening minutes and hit a pair of goal posts — but it was the Flyers that opened the scoring at 13:15 with a fluke goal. R.J. Umberger’s backhand pass from the right boards toward the slot was meant for teammate Sami Kapanen — but Montreal defenseman Patrice Brisebois, who was shadowing the Philadelphia forward, accidentally deflected the puck into the net for the first goal of the series.
''It wasn't a bad play, it was bad luck,'' Carbonneau said.
The goal gave the Flyers a burst of energy, and the forechecking of their fourth line led to a second goal at 16:49. Steve Downie got away from the checking of Sergei Kostitsyn and was able to backhand the puck from behind the net into the slot, where Jim Dowd one-timed it into the top right corner, past Price’s glove.
The Flyers missed a chance to take a three-goal lead with 1:20 left in the period when Daniel Briere, the NHL’s top scorer in the first round, was left wide-open down the right wing. But with the defense closing on him, Briere missed the net with a slap shot from the right circle.
The Canadiens came out with more life in the second period and received the game’s first power play when Coburn was called for hooking at 1:36. But Montreal’s power play, the best in the League during the regular season but just 3-for-33 in the opening round against Boston, couldn’t take advantage.
Montreal had a golden chance when Andrei Kostitsyn was awarded a penalty shot at 6:32 after being hauled down by defenseman Lasse Kukkonen while in alone against Biron. The speedy forward raced in and deked the goaltender to the ice, but was unable to lift the puck and shot it into his right pad.
The Kostitsyn brothers combined to get the Canadiens on the board at 9:44. Sergei forced Philadelphia’s Mike Richards into a turnover at center ice and raced into the Philadelphia zone. Just before being leveled, he flicked a pass to Andrei, whose wrist shot from the left of the slot caught the far corner.
Biron preserved the lead with eight minutes left when he poke-checked the puck away from Tomas Plekanec, who had raced past the defense.
Philadelphia got its first power play of the game at 14:52 when Mike Komisarek was called for roughing for hitting Scottie Upshall after the whistle. But after Price made a nice stop on Lupul’s wrist shot, the Canadiens came back and tied the game with a shorthanded goal at 16:03. Biron stopped Plekanec’s slapper from the right wing, but the puck popped into the air and Kovalev batted it into the net, making contact just after the puck went below the crossbar. After a lengthy video review, the goal was allowed and the game was even at 2-2.
''When the puck went in the air and I saw (Biron) was looking in the other direction, I knew I had enough time to let the puck come down a little bit lower to make sure it wasn't a high stick,'' Kovalev said.
But the Flyers got another chance on the power play when Komisarek was called for interference with 1:35 remaining in the period. This time, Philadelphia turned the opportunity into the go-ahead goal — but couldn’t hold onto the lead.
''We've just got to keep going,'' Dowd said. ''We're a good skating team. They've got great defensemen over there and we've got to make them go back as much as we can. Our strength is skating, getting the puck in deep and forechecking. We've got to make them go back every single shift. That’s the key for us.''
Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media was used in this report.