Alex Kovalev always predicted that, when the goals started coming, they would start coming in bunches.
He was right.
Kovalev scored his third in three games, this one the winner in overtime, to lead the Canadiens to a 4-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres Saturday night at the Bell Centre. The deciding goal came on the power play with 25 seconds remaining in the fourth period, as Kovalev delivered a wrist shot that found a one-inch opening over Ryan Miller’s shoulder, on his 8th shot on goal.
The goal was Kovalev’s 8th of the season, and capped a dominant performance by the Canadiens’ captain, at least while Saku Koivu remains on the mend with a lower-body injury.
What was even more impressive than Kovalev’s winning goal was the fact that he played this one as if he had missile toe in his boxers. He was mean, he was ornery and he worked hard all night long: particularly on Sergei Kostitsyn’s second goal of the night; Kovalev going strong into the corner and dishing the puck out to Kostitsyn, who sent the game into overtime.
More on Sergei in a moment.
Now, the trouble is, the penalties also came in bunches for Kovalev: as he picked up two of them that led to Buffalo goals. Kovalev was in the box when Clark Macarthur scored late in the second period to give Buffalo a 2-1 lead. And Kovalev was also cooling his jets when Andrej Sereka drifted one past Jaroslav Halak midway through the third to make it 3-2 Buffalo.
But there would be no “quit” in this Montreal team; not on this night. Three times they fought back from one-goal deficits, taking matters into their own hands in a third period which saw Steve Begin set the tone with a series of punishing body checks that seemed to light a fire under his team mates, before Sergei tied it at 15:06 of the third, and Kovalev won it in O.T.
Ah yes, Sergei Kostitsyn: two goals, to give him six on the season, and seven shots goal, in his best performance as a Hab. Finally, number 74 is beginning to look like the player who opened the season as Montreal’s most effective forward. When Sergei replaced injured brother Andrei earlier in the season on the Kovalev-Plekanec line, after Andrei had his bell rung by Kurt Sauer of the Phoenix Coyotes, he looked out of place. Not any more. With Andrei now nursing a knee injury, Sergei has stepped up and delivered.
Another player who delivered last night was Robert Lang. True, he was held off the score sheet, but Lang owned that little black disk all night long; the Sabres simply unable to move number 20 off the puck. And Lang’s 71 per cent efficiency rating in the face off circle spoke volumes for a team that has struggled to win the draw, all season.
Alex Tanguay had the other goal for the Canadiens. And boy, was HE ever due. It was only Tanguay’s second goal in his last 15 games. The next guy who needs to wake up is Tomas Plekanec, who has but two goals in his last 20 games, and just isn’t carrying the mail.
Jaroslav Halak? He fought the puck at times and fanned on a couple of shots that eluded him. But he came up huge midway through the third period, when the Sabres used the Montreal netminder as target practice. Whether or not Halak gets the start tonight, when the Canadiens play host to the Carolina Hurricanes in their final game heading into the Christmas break, remains to be seen. Carey Price, who is coming off a lower-body injury, was on the bench as Halak’s back up last night; Marc Denis having been sent back down to the Hamilton Bulldogs.
The smart money has Price returning to action tonight.