MONTREAL – A so-called demotion to the Montreal Canadiens’ third line seems to have worked wonders for streaky winger Andrei Kostitsyn.
The left-winger from Belarus scored the game-winner on a power play at 16:07 of the third period and earned an assist on a first-period tally by linemate Lars Eller to lift the Canadiens to a 4-3 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night.
That gave Kostitsyn four points in three games since the unit that also includes Travis Moen was put together for a 3-2 win in Vancouver on Tuesday.
”It’s an easy game—dump the puck and go forecheck and play in the offensive zone,” said Kostitsyn.
He had gone nine games without a point playing on the second line with centre Scott Gomez, who likes to carry the puck into the attacking zone.
With the scored tied 1-1 in the first, he skated hard on the forecheck, bumped Brett Carson off the puck and fed Eller in front for the Danish rookie’s fourth goal of the season.
”They seem to have some chemistry,” coach Jacques Martin said of the line. ”On the Eller goal, there was a good forecheck by Andrei.
”Lars is a player who has had some difficulties, but I always liked how he plays without the puck, how he understands of the game. And now he’s played better offensively, passing and shooting more quickly.”
Another unit clicking is Michael Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec. They had a goal and an assist each for the Canadiens (33-23-7), who have won two of their last three after posting just one victory in seven games.
Sixth-place Montreal is 3-0-0 against Carolina for the season and now has a five-point edge on the Hurricanes, who hold down the eighth and final playoff position.
Kostitsyn’s 15th goal came when he batted Roman Hamrlik’s point shot past Cam Ward during Montreal’s only man advantage of the game. The Hurricanes went 0-4 on their power-plays.
Jussi Jokinen, Tuomo Ruutu and Cory Stillman scored for the Hurricanes (29-25-9), who were coming off a 4-1 win over Pittsburgh on Friday night. Carolina is 4-4-3 in its last 11 games.
”It’s disappointing,” said Carolina coach Paul Maurice. ”We had three games in the last three weeks where we didn’t take any penalties.
‘You’ve got to play smart to the end. We took one late and it cost us.”
Carolina outshot Montreal 31-27.
The Hurricanes were without captain Eric Staal, who suffered an upper body injury against Pittsburgh, while Montreal stared backup goalie Alex Auld for a second straight game because Carey Price had the flu.
Auld rebounded from being pulled after allowing three goals on nine shots in a 5-4 loss to Toronto on Thursday.
”Carey wasn’t in a position to play, so it was my turn again,” said Auld. ”I need to give us a chance to win.
“It was nice to come right back and get a win.”
Defenceman Brent Sopel, acquired Thursday from Atlanta, was busy early in his first game for Montreal, helping kill a four-minute high-sticking minor to Gomez.
Sopel got 17:34 of ice time and allowed Martin to give overworked 36-year-old Hamrlik some rest during penalty kills and keep his ice time to 17:30.
Sopel, 34, liked being on the home side amid the noise from the 21,273 at the Bell Centre after playing before empty seats in Atlanta.
”It’s great when you go from where I was to this,” he said. ”It’s great to have that energy and enthusiasm in the building.
“The two points was the icing on the cake.”
Jiri Tlusty beat Auld to a puck behind the net and fed it in front for Jokinen, who scored his 100th career goal to open the scoring at 7:25.
Plekanec fed Cammalleri in the left circle, where he snapped a shot past Ward at 13:48 and Kostitsyn fed Eller for his goal at 16:53.
A Chad Larose shot hit Sopel’s leg and then went in off Ruutu’s skate 2:10 into the second but Plekanec countered with his 20th of the season at 5:13, giving Montreal three goals on its first 10 shots on Ward.
Stillman scored in his second game since returning to Carolina in a trade from Florida, beating Auld at 10:49 to sent it into the third period in a 3-3 tie.
Plekanec became the first Canadien with five straight 20-goal campaigns since Stephane Richer from 1986 to 1991.
”I’ve had great linemates the last few years and I got some nice passes from them,” said Plekanec, who had 25 goals and 70 points last season. ”That made it easier for me.”
The Canadiens begin a three-game road trip Monday in Atlanta.
NOTES—Sopel bumped Paul Mara from the lineup and speedy forward Tom Pyatt played for the first time in five games in place of the more physical Ryan White for Montreal. . . Staal is expected back Tuesday against Florida. Montreal-area native Jerome Samson got an assist in his first game at the Bell Centre and his sixth this season for the ‘Canes. . . Twelve of Carolina’s 18 remaining games are at home.