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Schneider's OT goal lifts Canadiens over Flyers

by Brian Hunter
The NHL trade deadline doesn't arrive until Wednesday, but Mathieu Schneider has already made a big impact since returning for his second tour of duty with the Montreal Canadiens.

Schneider's power-play goal with 1:39 remaining in overtime lifted the Habs to a 4-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Friday night at Wachovia Center, in a battle between teams that met in last season's Eastern Conference semifinals and would meet again in the opening round if the Stanley Cup Playoffs began today.

Moments earlier, Scottie Upshall had a great scoring chance for the Flyers, but his chance was denied by Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak -- and Upshall then ran into Halak as he skidded through the crease, drawing a penalty for goaltender interference.

"That’s a situation where I’d try to do the same thing next time, try to make something happen," Upshall said. "But sometimes those calls happen."

Antero Niittymaki made a pair of glove saves on shots by Schneider during the ensuing man advantage, but Saku Koivu won a third straight faceoff in the offensive zone and Schneider scored on a drive from the right circle to give the Canadiens their sixth consecutive regular-season win at the Wachovia Center.

"I just tried to hang on and just get a wrister through with a screen," said the veteran defenseman, who has three goals in five games, all on power plays, since being acquired from Atlanta and returning to the franchise that selected him in the third round of the 1987 Entry Draft.

Tomas Plekanec, Tom Kostopoulos and Alex Kovalev all scored in a span of 2:04 late in the first period to erase an early two-goal deficit for Montreal, which sits fifth in the East with 73 points and pulled within three of Philadelphia for home ice in the first round.

"Special teams was the difference and they won it," Flyers coach John Stevens said.

Joffrey Lupul, Mike Richards and Simon Gagne had goals for the Flyers, who had hoped center Danny Briere might return to the lineup after missing most of the season with groin and abdominal injuries. Glen Metropolit and Ossi Vaananen were both waived to clear salary cap space -- the Canadiens picked up Metropolit and had him in Friday's lineup -- but Briere remained a scratch and could potentially play Sunday at New Jersey.

"I'm pretty close," said Briere, who has been limited to nine games this season. "There's still a little bit of pain, but from what I hear, I'm going to feel a little pain the rest of the year. That's part of it. It's close. I'm feeling stronger each day."

Briere would add another weapon to a Philadelphia power play that has been the best in the League at home this season but failed in eight opportunities against Montreal, including a pair of 5-on-3 advantages in the second. Still, the Flyers got out of the period even at 3-3 when Gagne beat Halak on a breakaway with 7:17 left -- 33 seconds after his penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct expired.

Halak, who stopped 35 shots, and Niittymaki, with 32 saves, kept the offenses off the scoreboard after that, setting up the extra period.

The Flyers came out fast in the opening 20 minutes, only to find themselves down a goal by the end of the period.

Lupul scored just 28 seconds after the drop of the puck -- a bizarre faceoff that featured Jeff Carter of the Flyers against Metropolit, who had been his teammate just hours earlier.

"You know how they say, no friends on the ice," Metropolit said. "I just tried to compete tonight and just worry about the task at hand."

Carter and Scott Hartnell had assists on Lupul's goal, a shot that beat Halak just under the crossbar. Richards made it 2-0 at 8:14 when he stole the puck from defenseman Roman Hamrlik and scored his 24th of the season.

Niittymaki started strong, but Plekanec's power-play goal with 3:35 left in the first opened the floodgates for the Canadiens. Kostopoulos scored just 13 seconds later to tie the score, putting the puck in from a tricky angle at the side of the net, and Kovalev made it 3-2 Montreal with a shot that struck Niittymaki's right shoulder, popped into the air, then bounced behind him and over the goal line.

"I think we thought it might be an easy game after the quick start, but they did good things, they capitalized on their chances and we didn't," Richards said.

Material from wire services was used in this report.

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