ANAHEIM, Calif. – Being on the ice when the team he captained for the previous 10 seasons tied his new club in the final seconds of regulation wasn’t how Saku Koivu envisioned his first game against the Montreal Canadiens.
But that’s exactly what happened Sunday night. The Canadiens rallied with goals by Brian Gionta and Andrei Markov in the final 1:50 of the third period, and Tomas Plekanec added the shootout winner in the fourth round for an improbable 4-3 victory over the Anaheim Ducks.
After getting shut out by former Anaheim goalie Ilya Bryzgalov for the second time this season Saturday night in Phoenix, the Ducks began a seven-game homestand by taking a 3-0 lead in the first period.
“The way we came out in the first period, up 3-0, we were really confident that we could get the next goal and put the game away,” Koivu said. “When you lose that way, it’s pretty disappointing – especially for myself. I’ve waited for this game for quite awhile. I’m happy it’s done now, but I’m not happy with the outcome. I’m disappointed that we lost that point.”
The 14-year veteran from Finland had 16 goals and 34 assists in 65 games last season – his 13th with Montreal – before signing a one-year contract with Anaheim in July as a free agent. One reason was the chance to play a full season with countryman Teemu Selanne, who ended up missing 25 of the first 65 games because of a broken hand and a broken jaw.
“When the schedule came out, I looked to see when we would play against the old team,” said Koivu, whose tenure as captain tied Jean Beliveau for the longest in the Canadiens’ 101-year history.
“There’s a lot of new players there, but it’s the logo with the ‘CH’ is the same. I did wear that for a long long time. The Canadiens and the fans in Montreal were such a big part of my life for so long and were so great to me. We miss the city, but all those great memories and experiences will always stay with us.”
Plekanec scored at 7:48 of the second period to start Montreal’s comeback. Markov’s fourth of the season came with 10.7 seconds left, after the Canadiens pulled relief goalie Jaroslav Halak for a sixth attacker and Anaheim’s Bobby Ryan misfired at the empty net.
“We weren’t ready to play this game from the start, but we regrouped after the first period and played strong after that,” Markov said.
Ryan Getzlaf set up first-period goals by Corey Perry and Scott Niedermayer, and newly acquired Lubomir Visnovsky scored during Anaheim’s only power play of the game. The Ducks have lost three straight since the Olympic break after going into it on a 14-6-0 roll, and are six points out of a playoff spot with 17 games left on the schedule.
Jonas Hiller made 40 saves, including five in overtime before Gionta and Plekanec put the puck past him during the shootout. Hiller made the save on Gionta’s tying shot in the third round, but his momentum sent him sliding backward and the puck dropped over the goal line as he stood up. Referee Brad Watson phoned the war room in Toronto to look at the replay, and it was declared a legal goal.
“It was a play where I thought Hillsy had it. Then, once he goes to relax and thinks the play is over, it drops out. It’s unfortunate, but obviously we shouldn’t be in that position either,” Niedermayer said.
Carey Price faced 11 shots before Halak took over at the start of the second period. It was the first time the three-year veteran was benched during a game in his 36 starts this season. Halak stopped all 21 shots he faced, including six in overtime.
“I think Carey would like to have to some of those shots back, but also the team didn’t compete in the first period,” coach Jacques Martin said. “We were soft, and we gave them the three goals. We should’ve expected and known that they were going to come out hard.”
The victory vaulted the Canadiens over Boston into seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings, two points behind Philadelphia.
NOTES: Koivu had just two shots on net in 33 shifts totalling more than 27 minutes of ice time. … The Canadiens still haven’t chosen anyone to replace Koivu as the team’s official captain – the first season in which no Montreal player has worn the “C” on his jersey. They have two alternate captains – Gionta and Markov. … Gionta reached the 20-goal mark for the sixth time. He had a career-high 48 for New Jersey in 2005-06.