VANCOUVER – There haven’t been many bright spots this season for the Montreal Canadiens, but getting veteran Andrei Markov back on their blue-line Saturday was one of them.
So was a decisive 4-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.
“It was awesome,” said Markov, the 33-year-old Russian who battled back from two right knee surgeries that cost him 133 games over two seasons.
“We just beat one of the strongest teams in the league.”
Markov played more than 17 minutes and his pass to P.K. Subban set up a power-play blast that provided a 3-1 lead.
“I felt good,” Markov said when asked how his right knee, injured on Nov. 13, 2010, responded to game action.
“The first few shifts I had to adjust to the speed but after that I felt good. My job is just to play the game. I don’t know how many minutes I’m going to play next game. I’m just happy to be there.”
There were few in the Habs’ locker-room happier to see Markov back than netminder Carey Price, who kept his team in the game when they were outshot 15-5 in the scoreless first period.
“He’s a first-class player and he moves the puck so well,” Price said.
“When we’re breaking the puck out, he just has the confidence with it and it makes a big difference. He’s a big boost for us and he’s pretty irreplaceable.”
Erik Cole scored twice in the third period along with Subban, as Montreal fired four unanswered goals after Ryan Kesler gave Vancouver a 1-0 lead midway through the game.
Blake Geoffrion, obtained in a trade from Nashville, scored his first goal of the season to tie the game after defenceman Alex Edler lost a puck battle to Louis Leblanc along the side boards.
It was only the third win in 10 games for Montreal (27-32-10), the the Eastern Conference cellar dwellers.
The Canucks (42-19-8) have lost three of the first five starts of a seven-game homestand to place a major obstacle in their path for a second straight President’s Trophy.
They trail Western Conference-leading St. Louis Blues by three points in the battle for the over-all NHL lead.
Cole scored what proved to be the winner on a seemingly harmless shot.
He entered the Vancouver zone, had a shot blocked by Edler, but went around the Canuck defenceman and flipped a backhand.
The puck found its way inside the short-side post and under Luongo’s glove.
Mistakes were costly for the Canucks. Edler got caught on a pinch and Subban capitalized with one second remaining in a two-man advantage.
Both penalties—to Edler and Chris Higgins—were for delay of game, sending pucks over the glass.
“We didn’t go after them the way we should have,” said Canuck coach Alain Vigneault.
“In the third, obviously Louie gives up a bad goal and we didn’t respond well at all. We should have responded the right way, threw two pucks in the stands and they made us pay for it.”
Subban said it appeared Markov didn’t miss a beat in his long rehabilitation after ligament damage.
“When he’s healthy he’s top-three among the best defencemen in the league,” Subban said.
“When he comes back it’s a boost of confidence for our team.
“Even today, I’m not too sure what his stats were but it looks like he’s been playing for a while.”
Montreal coach Randy Cunneyworth said Markov’s workload was relatively light, and he thrived.
“It was kind of right where we wanted it to be in terms of ice time and responsibility,” Cunneyworth said.
“He kept well within a simple, smart game and he’ll look to get better from here.”
Alex Burrows, who was moved to the first unit of a Vancouver power play that now is 1-for-24 in its last 10 games, said the Canucks dug too big a hole to come back against the Habs.
“It’s a team if you let them believe, they’re going to hang around,” Burrows said.
“Tonight they got some bounces go their way and they took advantage of them. We need to play better and execute better.”
Higgins said two delay-of-game penalties are rare.
“That’s the breaks and we didn’t get them,” Higgins said.
“I think we could have done a better job responding after that five-on-three. They took it to us for the rest of the game.”
Geoffrion, grandson of former Hab great Bernie (Boom-Boom) Geoffrion and great-grandson of Montreal legend Howie Morenz, found extra meaning in his goal near the end of the second period and provided the Canadiens with momentum.
“It’s a great feeling because one, it’s been a while since I’ve socred in the NHL, and two, for obvious reasons with my family history to get that goal and help the team to win.”
Sunday will be the sixth anniversary of his grandfather’s death.
“It’s a day my nana always sends us an e-mail and just says ‘say hi to Papi and say your prayers,’ and I miss him every day,” Geoffrion said. “Now I got one for him.”
Notes: Geoffrion’s goal was his first in more than a year … he scored a game-winner here last season while playing for Nashville … the injury-depleted Canadiens were missing David Desharnais, Travis Moen, Brian Gionta and Mathieu Darche … a moment’s silence was held before the game in memory of Nik Zoricic, the Toronto ski cross racer who died Saturday in a World Cup event in Switzerland.