BACK TO BACK WINS. FINALLY.


In the minutes following last night’s 5-4 nail-biter over the Atlanta Thrashers, Saku Koivu was left shaking his head.

He wasn’t the only one.

A furious third-period comeback by the Thrashers, coupled with a 59-second collapse by the Canadiens, left the sell-out crowd of 21,273 at the Bell Centre reeling. However, the Habs managed to pull this one out of the fire in the final minutes, to post their first back-to-back wins in more than a month.

That’s right. Prior to last night, the Canadiens hadn’t taken two in a row since they beat Minnesota 2-1 on Oct. 30, and the New York Islanders, 5-4, two nights later, on Nov. 1.

Nov. 1. The last time Alex Kovalev put the puck in the net. More on him in a moment.

First, let’s take you back to last night’s opening 20 minutes against an Atlanta team that was four games below .500 going into the contest. Habs fans are all too painfully aware that there have been no “gimme’s” for this Canadiens’ team that has struggled against lesser clubs like the Islanders and the Blues. So, it was with a sense of satisfaction and relief that they watched Montreal come out of the gate wheeling and dealing.

Matt D’Agostini opened the scoring at 16:21 of the opening frame with his first NHL goal in only his second game since being called up from Hamilton. D’Agostini, a deceptively quick skater, was there to poke a rebound past Johan Hedberg after Andrei Kostitsyn (more on him later) swung around the net and tried to jam one in. The play was set up by Captain Koivu, who, game in and game out, continues to be Montreal’s most consistent forward.

Tomas Plekanec made it 2-0 at 14:22 when he picked up a loose puck at the Atlanta blue line and wired one from the face-off circle past Hedberg to make it 2-0 Montreal.

Andrei Markov made it 3-0 at 19:04 of the second when he jumped on a fat, juicy rebound with Andrei Kostitsyn making life miserable for Hedberg in front of the crease. A power play goal, no less.

So far, so good. Right?

Not so fast.

Stay with me folks, as we take you through 59 seconds of hockey, early in the third period:

6:28 Former Hab Ron Hainsey drills one from the point past Carey Price. 3-1 Montreal.

7:20 Hainsey again, as the puck trickles by Price in front of a crowded Montreal net. 3-2 Montreal.

7:27. On the ensuing faceoff, Ilya Kovalchuk, Marty Reasoner and Chris Thorburn stretch out the Habs “D”, as well as Price, with Thorburn burying it to tie the game. 3-3. Three Atlanta goals in a 59-second span.

Back to The Captain in the Canadiens’ locker room at the conclusion of this one.

“I really don’t know what happened, and it happened quickly.”

“Quickly” isn’t the word for it.

However, the Canadiens weren’t done. Then again, neither were the Thrashers. Andrei Kostitsyn put Montreal back in front 4-3 with a terrific burst of speed along the boards before he cut in front of Hedberg to connect for his fifth of the season. Robert Lang made it 5-3 with an empty-netter at 18:45, his 7th of the campaign. However, Jason Williams made this one way too close for comfort when he banged one in with 20 seconds remaining in regulation time. After throwing a major-league scare into the Habs, that’s as close as the pesky Thrashers would get.

Two points on back-to-back wins. Guy Carbonneau will take ’em, that’s for sure, especially with the kind of November his club had.

Once again, The Coach went back to the drawing boad for his line combinations, which included the unique pairing of Koivu and Kostitsyn, alongside D’Agostini. The three combined for six points, with Kostitsyn leading the way with three, while his little brother, Sergei, watched this one from the press box as a healthy scratch. Guillaume Latendresse and Ryan O’Byrne were the other designated sitters.

The other forward lines featured:
Kovalev-Lang-Higgins
Tanguay-Plekanec-Kostopoulos
Lapierre-Laraque-Begin

Carbo’s moves worked all the way around, with both Kostitsyn and Plekanec clearly emerging from the funk they’d been in for much of the start of the season.

Which brings us back to Alex Kovalev. It looked like he had one. In the third period. Into an open net. However, the goal was credited to Lang. Still, Kovalev picked up two assists for his efforts and finished a plus 2 on the night in 19:50 of spirited ice time; exhibiting some of the fire and passion that Coach Carbo says has been absent from his game this season.

The goals, however, aren’t coming, for number 27. He’s gone 14 straight without putting the puck in the net. Kovalev recalls when he went 18 straight without scoring as a member of the Rangers. In the 19th game that season, he scored a hat trick against the Penguins. Kovalev is confident that, when the goals come, they’ll come in bunches.

We’ll hold him to that.

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About ahefter

I have covered hockey extensively during my 30-year sports broadcasting career. From the Miracle on Ice at Lake Placid to the Edmonton Oiler dynasty years, I've shared my views on hockey with listeners in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. You can "catch me in action" on Youtube at the following URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1n5BdB9ngYw My radio stops include TSN 690 Montreal, CJAD Montreal, CKNW Vancouver, and CKEY Toronto. I also ran the Canadian Press sports desk (radio). My travels as a network reporter have taken me to four Olympics, most recently Vancouver 2010. I'm currently an Applied Assistant Professor within the School of Communication at the University of Hartford.
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