All-star goalie Huet makes 44 saves as Habs beat Thrashers 4-1

Huet, who will play in his first all-star game next week at Dallas, made 44 saves and the Montreal Canadiens finally scored after two straight shutouts for a 4-1 win over the Atlanta Thrashers on Thursday night.

The Canadiens won for just the fifth time in 14 games, taking control early in the second period after two Atlanta players were sent to the penalty box about a minute apart. Montreal seized its chance, scoring twice in 46 seconds for a 3-1 lead.

That was plenty of goals for Huet, even though Atlanta’s 45-shot effort tied a franchise record.

“I can’t take away what Cristobal did,” Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau said. “He was really, really good tonight. Forty-five shots against Atlanta is very hard.”

Carbonneau complained about Huet letting in two soft goals during a 4-0 loss to Vancouver on Tuesday. The goalie responded to the criticism with one of his strongest games of the season.

Atlanta’s frustration was epitomized by a sequence with about 12 minutes remaining. Ilya Kovalchuk broke in all alone during a line change, but Huet kicked away the shot with his right pad. Glen Metropolit picked up the rebound along the boards and fired again, only to have Huet slide across the crease and smother the puck against his stomach.

“Our team showed a lot of smarts,” Huet said, deflecting most of the credit to his teammates. “In the first, I had to make a couple of difficult saves in the slot, but after that I think we eliminated the good scoring chances.”

The game was decided in the second when Atlanta was called for two quick penalties. Garnet Exelby got caught holding and Shane Hnidy went off for delay of game after he flipped the puck over the glass at the opposite end of the ice while simply trying to clear it out of the Thrashers’ zone.

The Canadiens went ahead for good 17 seconds into their two-man advantage.

Sheldon Souray fired a shot from the top of the circle that somehow got through two Thrashers coming out to block it. The puck actually broke Brad Larsen’s stick and deflected between the legs of goalie Kari Lehtonen.

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Exelby returned to the ice, but Montreal wasn’t done with Atlanta still down a player. After Guillaume Latendresse’s shot was stopped by Lehtonen, Souray dug out the rebound and flipped it to the side of the net. Tomas Plekanec fired it past the helpless goalie, still sprawled on the ice.

The two-goal swing was especially disheartening to the Thrashers, who had tied the score 1-1 with only nine seconds left in the opening period.

“We scored a big goal late in the first and came out in the second with a lot of life,” coach Bob Hartley said. “But that 5-on-3 really put us on our heels.”

Sergei Samsonov finished off a spurt of three goals in 6 minutes, 40 second when he fooled Lehtonen from behind the net.

After teaming up with Mike Johnson to play keepaway from Thrashers defenceman Braydon Coburn, Samsonov suddenly darted out in front, stuffing a shot into an open net after Lehtonen leaned toward Johnson coming from the other side, thinking he had the puck.

Montreal had gone 138:17 without scoring before Alex Kovalev put the Canadiens ahead less than six minutes into the game. He slipped free in front of the net to take a pass from Latendresse, who lured the defence toward him as he swept into the Atlanta zone along the boards.

Slava Kozlov tied it up for the Thrashers with the clock winding down. Marian Hossa checked a Montreal player off the puck, Kovalchuk picked it up and passed quickly to Kozlov, who whipped the puck past Huet.

That was the only letdown for the Montreal goalie.

“We did a lot of great things,” Hartley said. “But Huet was very good. He came up with some big saves at critical times. He kept them in the game.”

Notes: Montreal snapped a three-game losing streak and ended Atlanta’s two-game winning streak. . . . The Canadiens have won all three games against the Thrashers this season, following up wins of 3-1 and 4-2 in Montreal. . . . Lehtonen made 29 saves. . . . Atlanta tied the franchise mark for shots that was first set at Washington on March, 20, 2004.