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Montreal offense clicks again in 6-2 win over Toronto

by Brian Hunter
Jaroslav Halak doesn't have it easy filling the shoes of Carey Price while the No. 1 goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens misses time with a lower-body injury. His teammates are doing their best to provide him with plenty of offensive support.

Andrei Kostitsyn registered a power-play goal and two assists to back Halak's 30 saves in a 6-2 rout of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night. The Canadiens improved to 8-1-1 in their last 10 games and scored six goals for the third straight game and second consecutive night — they beat the Rangers 6-3 at New York on Wednesday.

Sergei Kostitsyn also connected on the power play and Maxim Lapierre, Guillaume Latendresse, Alex Kovalev and Max Pacioretty added goals as Montreal cruised in an often contentious battle that featured a combined 140 minutes in penalties, including four misconducts to each side.

''We got the lead early and they tried to change the momentum,'' said Lapierre, who was in the middle of several shoving and shouting matches. ''But our guys kept their focus. It's a big rivalry between these teams. I think it's great hockey."

Halak started his fourth straight game with Price on the shelf, and the results have been steadily improving. After getting pulled in a loss to New Jersey and yielding five goals to Florida before winning in a shootout, he stopped 39 shots against the Rangers and followed up with another strong effort.

"Everyone played so well and Jaro made the big saves," said Montreal defenseman Patrice Brisebois, who assisted on three first-period goals. "It's a huge two points and it's fun. We're playing great hockey right now."

Tomas Kaberle had a power-play goal in the second for Toronto and Matt Stajan tallied with 1:30 left in the game and the outcome long since decided.

Moments before Stajan's goal, Mikhail Grabovski, an ex-Hab enjoying a breakout season for the Leafs, pushed away linesman Scott Cherrey and kicked his helmet after the official fell on top of Grabovski while breaking up an altercation between him and Sergei Kostitsyn. Both players received 10-minute misconducts.

''It seemed to make some of our guys uncomfortable when we got physical, to be honest with you,'' Toronto coach Ron Wilson said. ''We had a lot of guys answer the bell and I'm happy for that, but we still need more effort from a lot of guys, unfortunately.''

Much earlier, Sergei Kostitsyn started the scoring when he put the rebound of a Brisebois shot into a wide open net, and the Canadiens cashed in on the man advantage 2:35 into the first.

Lapierre extended the lead to 2-0 at 4:59 before Kaberle briefly got the Leafs back into the game, driving a slap shot from the right point past Halak at 7:55. But the Canadiens restored their two-goal edge heading into intermission when Latendresse scored with 57 seconds left in the period.

"We needed a great start," Lapierre said. "We played last night and we knew they were going to be ready so we just kept it simple, put the puck at the net and that's what happened, we got the two points."

It didn't get any better in the second for Toronto or goalie Vesa Toskala, who entered with a career-worst 3.27 goals-against average. He was victimized by All-Star starter Alex Kovalev at 6:20 and Andrei Kostitsyn at 18:53, and was replaced by Curtis Joseph to begin the third. Toskala stopped 16 shots.

"They're a good hockey team, and we knew they were going to come out hard from the drop of the puck," forward Jason Blake said. "We just have to find a way inside this room to make sure that we're ready for the hockey game when warmups come and the drop of the puck comes."

Joseph made seven saves but couldn't stop Pacioretty, who scored in his NHL debut against the Devils and added his second of the season with 7:52 remaining. Stajan then capped the scoring, picking up his 10th after missing the previous five games due to an eye injury.

Montreal remained hot despite missing a number of its top players. Besides Price, the Canadiens continue to be without captain Saku Koivu and forwards Alex Tanguay and Christopher Higgins. Recently called-up Yannick Weber, a defenseman, played his first NHL game as a fourth-line forward while also seeing time at the point on the power play.

Even with all the injuries, the Canadiens are on a roll.

"We're playing well right now," Latendresse said. "Everybody's confident, we're playing hard and we knew that if we started well we would have control of the game."

Material from wire services was used in this report.

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