MONTREAL – The Montreal Canadiens survived a scare from the NHL’s worst team on Thursday night.
The Canadiens needed a huge save from Jaroslav Halak on Shawn Horcoff in overtime and Andrei Kostitsyn’s goal in the fifth round of the shootout for a 5-4 win over the lowly Edmonton Oliers. “It’s not easy against these teams – they’ve got nothing to lose,” said Canadiens defenceman Andrei Markov. “And then we try to get too fancy and sometimes it doesn’t work.
“You need to play a more simple game. We got the two points so we’re happy, but we have to play better.”
Tomas Plekanec scored his 20th of the season, to give him four straight 20-goal campaigns, while Brian Gionta, Travis Moen and Sergei Kostitsyn also scored for the Canadiens (34-29-6), who have won five of six since the Olympic break.
Montreal tied Philadelphia in points with 74, although the Flyers, who are sixth in the Eastern Conference, hold three games in hand.
Robert Nilsson, Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Shawn Horcoff scored for the Oilers (21-29-7). Edmonton, a league-worst 8-21-3 on the road, play in Toronto on Saturday before moving on to Columbus and Minnesota.
Kostitsyn was the only Canadien to score on Oilers netminder Devan Dubnyk in the shootout, who got most of the shot but saw it trickle into the net. Dubnyk just missed recording his first NHL win and is now 0-7-2 in his rookie season.
Halak stopped all five Edmonton shooters, although Gilbert Brule had him beat but hit a goalpost.
“I’m getting closer and closer,” the 23-year-old Dubnyk said of that elusive first win. “I thought we had the win for sure.
“I felt confident in the shootout, and when Brule hit the post I felt my heart go though my neck.”
The Oilers, already riddled with injuries, may have lost another player as Ryan Whitney left the game with two minutes left in the second period after taking an Markov shot off his right knee. He limped to the bench and did not return for the third period.
Edmonton went into the third period down 3-2, but Cogliano scored after only 32 seconds, poking the puck in after Dustin Penner took it to the net and tied up two defenders. It was Cogliano’s first goal in 20 games.
Edmonton then killed off a two-man advantage for 1:18, but Sergei Kostitsyn put Montreal ahead when he won a battle for the puck with Brule in the corner, skated out and scored with a wrist shot at 8:05.
Horcoff tied it again only 1:14 later when his long shot eluded Halak’s glove.
“I’ve got to stop that one – shots from there shouldn’t go in,” said Halak. “But that happens to everyone. It wasn’t my best game, but we got the two points.”
He was better in overtime, as Horcoff broke in on the right side but was thwarted by a pad save.
“I had to stop that or I’d be really disappointed,” he added.
Goals came thick and fast in the first four minutes of a sloppy opening period.
Plekanec was sent in alone and beat Dubnyk on Montreal’s second shot of the game at 1:20, but then Nilsson scored on Edmonton’s first shot on Halak as he picked the top corner on the near side with a wrist shot at 2:22.
Gagner beat Halak – again top corner-near side – from a tight angle on a power play at 3:43 on the Oilers’ third shot.
It took Gionta until the 9:45 mark to tie it as he tipped an Andrei Markov shot over Dubnyk.
Sergei Kostitsyn skated the puck to the net and Moen banged it home 15:25 into the second. It was the first goal in 33 games for the checking winger.
Canadiens coach Jacques Martin played around a little with his power play units and, while they controlled the puck on most of them, they failed to click. Montreal has the league’s second best power play, but went 0-for-7 on Thursday.
Notes: Oilers captain Ethan Moreau missed a fifth game with a neck injury, and Patrick O’Sullivan sat out after injuring a hand against Ottawa on Tuesday. He was replaced by Chris Minard, who made his Oilers debut. . . Maxim Lapierre served the last game of his four-game suspension for a hit from behind on San Jose’s Scott Nichol. . . Paul Mara was a healthy scratch. . . It was the 14th anniversary of the final game played at the old Montreal Forum in 1996.