The Montreal Canadiens can thank Jaroslav Halak for their first win on the road after seven straight setbacks.

Halak was outstanding (something you haven’t been able to say about either of the two Montreal netminders for almost a month) in Montreal’s 4-2 win over the struggling Colorado Avalanche last night.  The backup netminder, who is sure to get the start tomorrow night in Vancouver, faced plenty of rubber over the final 40 minutes, but hung tough to help preserve this much-needed victory.

Did I say “much needed?”

Did you see the reaction on coach Guy Carbonneau‘s face after Tom Kostopoulos sealed the deal with an empty netter in the final minute of play?  He was jubilant.  And for good reason.  His club had dropped 7 of the last 9 starts, and was spiralling out of control.

Until Jaroslav Halak stepped up and saved the day.

Halak was given the starting gig after Carey Price surrendered a bushel of goals in Montreal’s 7-2 loss in Edmonton two nights earlier.  Price is 2-6 since his appearance in the all-star game.  Less than sensational.  In fact, all four Montreal all-stars have been less than sensational since the all-star game: Alex Kovalev, Mike Komisarek and Andrei Markov moving into minus territory faster than you can say “Dow Jones Industrial Average.”

But Halak didn’t disappoint last night.  After building up a 2-0 first-period lead on goals by Francis Bouillon and Patrice Brisebois, the Canadiens went to sleep over the final 40 minutes; outshot 17-4 in the second period, and 19-5 in the third period. 

After squandering that 2-0 lead, Andrei Kostitsyn put the Habs ahead to stay with his 19th of the season at 17:44 of the third period, as he slipped the puck past Peter Budaj on a breakaway.  The goal by Kostitsyn was Montreal’s first by a forward (I don’t count the goal scored by Mathieu Dandenault against the Oilers) since the first period of the loss to the Calgary Flames: almost eight complete periods of futility on the part of Habs‘ forwards. 

Ironically, the last goal to be scored by a Montreal forward, before the Kostitsyn goal, came when Tomas Plekanec put the puck in the net against the Flames back on Monday.  Plekanec wasn’t on the ice last night in Denver.  He was cooling his jets in the press box after being given a two-game suspension for his nasty takedown on Edmonton’s Denis Grebeshkov.  Head coach Guy Carbonneau claimed the incident was a “hockey play.”  With all due respect to the coach, that was no hockey play.  That was a “dirty play.” 

All of which means the Canadiens will again be without Plekanec when they take on Mats Sundin and the Vancouver Canucks tomorrow night.  And won’t THAT be interesting.  After sucking wind for weeks as a member of the Canucks, Sundin has since found his sea legs and is playing some pretty good hockey.  No doubt he will be facing Jaroslav Halak in goal tomorrow night.

And should Halak lead the Habs to another “W”, look for the backup netminder to again get the start against the Capitals, when the Canadiens continue this road trip Wednesday night in Washington.

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