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Kovalev's pair leads Senators to 3-2 win at Montreal

by Arpon Basu

MONTREAL - The novelty of coming back to the Bell Centre has worn off for Alex Kovalev. All he cares about now is winning.

Kovalev haunted his former team with two goals and Brian Elliott made 21 saves as the Ottawa Senators beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 Saturday night to run their winning streak to a season-high three games.

The two goals were Kovalev's first in Montreal since he had a goal and an assist in his first game back here last season -- a night when he received a standing ovation after being named first star and blew kisses into the crowd.

He was named first star again Saturday night -- this time, he was greeted by a mix of cheers and boos as he did a quick twirl and left the ice.

"I don't feel that way anymore," Kovalev said. "They can do whatever they want, I see it like any other city I go to trying to get a couple of goals and trying to win the game."

Zack Smith also scored one night after playing on the same Bell Centre ice for Ottawa's farm team, and Sergei Gonchar had an assist to run his point streak to three games for the Senators (7-6-1), who climbed above the .500 mark for the first time this season.

Ottawa has won five of six and is beginning to see the light after a difficult 1-4-1 start to the season.

"Right now every point is important," Kovalev said. "I know it's early in the season, but we want to climb. The way we started the season, we want to get up the standings, not look back and catch up with some wins."

Aside from Gonchar adjusting to his new surroundings with 2 goals and 7 assists in his last nine games, the Senators are benefitting from some vastly improved play from sophomore defenseman Erik Karlsson, who had a pair of assists and was plus-2.

Karlsson drew a lot of criticism after getting off to a poor start with a single goal and a minus-4 rating through his first six games, but he's bounced back with 2 goals, 5 assists and a plus-4 rating in his last eight.

"I think it's more about the team playing better than me playing better," Karlsson said. "It's easy to look good when the team is winning, and right now we're winning."

Elliott is a big reason the Senators are on a roll. He has a 6-2-0 record with a 2.63 goals against average and .914 save percentage in his last eight starts.

"The more you win, you get more chances to be in net," said Elliott, whose play is keeping the now-healthy Pascal Leclaire in a backup role. "You just want to get in there and give your guys a chance to win."

Jaroslav Spacek and Brian Gionta scored for the Canadiens (8-5-1), who won 3-2 in Buffalo on Friday while Ottawa waited for them in Montreal.

"It was a factor tonight, they won more battles than we did," Canadiens coach Jacques Martin said of facing a rested team. "You hope (the back-to-back games) balance out at the end of the year. But so far, we've had three games where our opposition was fresh and one game where the opposition was tired."

Tomas Plekanec was back in the Canadiens lineup after sitting out the game in Buffalo with an illness, and he picked up an assist on Spacek's goal to take over the team scoring lead with 11 points.

Carey Price was outstanding for Montreal, particularly in the second period as the Canadiens were outshot 16-6 but came out of it down only a goal thanks to their goalie's heroics. He finished the night with 28 saves while his teammates had a season-low 23 shots on goal.

"We worked hard, but we've got to do in a smart (way) in the context of the game," Gionta said. "We can't be running out of position. We got a little pressed with guys driving down and gave up too many odd-man rushes."

Kovalev, who played 314 games and scored 103 goals in a Canadiens uniform from 2004-09, scored his fourth and fifth goals of the season as the sellout crowd of 21,273 booed him nearly every time he handled the puck.

He tipped home a Karlsson point shot at 17:50 of the first and blasted a slap shot on the power play at 6:42 of the third to put Ottawa ahead 3-1 -- leaving him only three points shy of 1,000 in his career.

"It's a long journey and it's a big achievement," Kovalev said of the upcoming milestone. "I'm definitely proud of myself."

Gionta scored his second of the season and his first since Oct. 16, also against Ottawa, with 4:07 to play in regulation by beating Elliott with a long wrister the Ottawa goalie should have had to make it a one-goal game. The Canadiens pulled Price for the final 90 seconds or so, but could not put much pressure on Elliott.

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