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Kovalev leads Canadiens to 5-3 win over Ottawa

by John Kreiser
The sellout crowd at Bell Centre gave Alex Kovalev a rousing ovation when he took the ice for the warm-up before Saturday's game against Ottawa -- his first after a two-game break ordered by Montreal GM Bob Gainey. The 35-year-old forward responded with a goal and two assists to lead the struggling Canadiens to a 5-3 victory over the Senators.

"It's nice when you come back and get that much support," said Kovalev, who tossed his stick into the crowd in a gesture of appreciation after being named the game's No. 1 star. "I didn't know what to expect. But I'm a different person now. I have that hankering to play."

Gainey told Kovalev to stay home from a midweek trip to Washington and Pittsburgh to rest and ponder the listless play that has characterized much of his season. Gainey told the media he felt Kovalev wasn't helping the team with the way he had been playing.

Kovalev said this week he had been battling a flu and a mysterious weight loss. But he admitted that he needed the break -- even if he didn't agree with it at the time.

"The most important thing was that I was able to get the bad thoughts out of my mind that have been building up all year," he said. "You try different things and nothing works and then you get confused, but in the last few days I've been able to clear my mind.

"I made a joke with my teammates -- I said it feels like I just got traded here."

Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau said he was not surprised that Kovalev came back strong.

"He's done it before," Carbonneau said. "That's the kind of player he is. When he wants to play hard and he works, he's a really good player."

Kovalev slapped a pass through the slot that Tomas Plekanec buried for a power-play goal 2:23 into the game, sending a jolt of energy through what had been a quiet crowd. He drew more cheers when he stripped Chris Phillips of the puck in the Ottawa zone, went in alone and beat Brian Elliot with a wrist shot at 5:38 for his first goal in 10 games and a 2-0 lead.

"They've been so much behind me and it's incredible," said Kovalev, the MVP at last month's All-Star Game in Montreal. "I just don't have really enough words to describe it."

Newly acquired defenseman Mathieu Schneider made it 3-0 when he picked the far, top corner from the right point on a power play 3:25 into the second. Patrice Brisebois had all the time he wanted to tee up and blast in Montreal's third power-play goal at 6:47 after Ottawa's Chris Kelly lost his stick during a penalty kill. Kovalev assisted on Brisebois' goal for his first three-point game since Nov. 1.

"I've got to be careful -- now everyone's going to ask for three days off," Carbonneau joked.

Jarkko Ruutu and Dany Heatley made it 4-2 by the midway point of the second period, but Mathieu Dandenault restored Montreal's three-goal margin by scoring with 19 seconds left in the period. Heatley added a late power-play goal for the Senators, and defenseman Chris Campoli, acquired Friday along with Mike Comrie in a trade from the New York Islanders, finished with two assists.

Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson assisted on Heatley's second goal in his return after sitting out Thursday's 5-2 loss to Vancouver because of a broken jaw. Alfredsson, who wore a full face shield, was originally expected to miss at least a week after he was hit by a shot by Heatley in a 3-2 overtime loss in Colorado on Tuesday.

"They explained what can happen and if you get another blow to it, but then it's up to me," Alfredsson said. "I talked to them before the Vancouver game and it's a fracture, but it will be four weeks at least until it's fully healed. If I wait one week or 10 days it's still not going to be healed, and I can handle the pain as it is."

The Senators are 0-2-1 in their last three games and 5-3-2 since Cory Clouston replaced Craig Hartsburg behind the bench.

"They came out strong and got the momentum," Clouston said. "Obviously Kovalev's goal compounded the momentum they had, scoring after what he went through."

Material from wire services was used in this report.

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