MONTREAL – Jaroslav Halak is standing tall in the Montreal Canadiens net.
The back-up goalie who took over as the starter when Carey Price went into a slump made 46 saves and won his fourth straight start as the Canadiens took a lead and held on for a 3-2 NHL victory over the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night.
“As long as we get the win, that’s what matters,” the 23-year-old said. “We need the points.”
Saku Koivu and Andrei Markov each had a goal and an assist in a three-goal outburst in the first period as the Canadiens (34-22-7) posted their fourth straight victory. Defenceman Josh Gorges also scored as Montreal had three in a 6:42 span.
Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton scored early in the second frame for San Jose (42-10-9), the Western Conference leader which has lost two of its last three. The Sharks had won five of their previous six contests.
After taking their lead, the Canadiens were outshot 34-11 over the final two periods as they tried to protect their lead and the Sharks crowded their net and banged at pucks but couldn’t get the tying goal.
“We didn’t want to sit back that much, but we couldn’t get out of it,” said winger Tom Kostopoulos. “They were pressing.
“Thank god for Halak. He was amazing.”
San Jose just missed on a handful of chances in the third period, and Patrick Marleau came close when his shot from the left side went under Halak’s arm and off the post.
“We’re big, fast and strong and a lot of teams don’t know how to play us,” said Thornton. “They don’t know how to handle that.”
It was Montreal’s second win as many nights, as Halak was coming off a 35-save effort in a 4-3 overtime win Friday night in Philadelphia.
“Credit Halak, he was great,” said Sharks goalie Brian Boucher. “On the back end of back-to-back games, you think you’d be able to get to him, but he stood tall for them. He was the difference.”
The Sharks came out strong, but failed to beat Halak, and Kostopoulos gave credit to enforcer Georges Laraque for changing the game by winning a fight with Sharks tough guy Jody Shelley. Laraque had been in hot water with coach Guy Carbonneau this week for complaining about being left out of games.
“They came out and really took it to us, but Georges totally turned it around for us with that fight,” Kostopoulos added. “Something had to be done because we weren’t playing well and Georges changed the momentum and turned it in our favour.
“Right after that, we came out with three goals.”
Laraque said he wanted to get the 21,273 Bell Centre fans into the game.
“I was trying to get energy from the crowd,” he said. “We have 21,000 people and if you get them going, it’s amazing in here and on our bench.”
It was Montreal’s reawakened power play that opened the scoring after Christian Ehrhoff was sent off for hooking.
Tomas Plekanec got the puck to Markov at the point for a shot that went in off defenceman Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s arm at 11:05 for Montreal’s 11th power-play goal in 25 chances in six games since acquiring point man Mathieu Schneider in a trade from Atlanta last week. It was their only power play chance of the game.
Forechecking by Matt D’Agostini saw the rookie feed the onrushing Gorges for a shot into an open side at 13:27 and Markov fed a wide-open Koivu for a goal from the right side at 17:47, giving Montreal three goals in a four-shot span.
The crowd began to mock Boucher by chanting his name, but coach Todd McLellan was loathe to change him. Evgeni Nabokov, who has been scheduled to start, was battling a bad flu and was not even sitting on the bench. McLellan said he would not have played under any circumstances.
The Sharks took pressure off their goaltender by scoring twice in the opening 1:55 of the second frame.
Pavelski fought off Gorges at the side of the net to poke in a power-play goal at 1:06 and 49 seconds later, Marleau fed Thornton going hard to the net for a shot that trickled under Halak’s arm.
The Canadiens had won only three of 15 games and were mired in controversy before winning their last four. They had sent star winger Alex Kovalev home for two games to reflect on his weak play and had a media report surfaced that winger Andrei Kostitsyn and defenceman Roman Hamrlik had hung around with a suspected mobster, although no player was charged or even suspected of anything illegal .
“We could still be better, but this is a start,” said coach Guy Carbonneau.
The Canadiens are on the road this week for games in Buffalo, Atlanta and Dallas. The Sharks ended a four-game road trip and next play Tuesday against Dallas.
Notes: Defenceman Doug Janik, acquired by Montreal from Dallas on Thursday, cleared waivers and was assigned to AHL Hamilton. . . . The Canadiens played the 3,000th home game in their 100-year history. They are (1,837-755-408) all-time at home. . . . Sharks winger Claude Lemieux, who began his career in Montreal and who is making a comeback at 42, got a rousing welcome from the fans. . . . Mathieu Dandenault and Kyle Chipchura were scratched for Montreal, while Alexei Semenov didn’t dress for San Jose.