MONTREAL – Christopher Higgins needed a moment to recall the last time he had a hat-trick.
Then the Montreal Canadiens winger found it – more than five years ago, when he played at Yale. And it came against former Canadiens goalie Yann Danis, who was at Brown University at the time. “I’ve come close a few times,” Higgins said after his three-goal effort which led the Canadiens to a 4-0 NHL victory over the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night. “I hit the post a few times (trying to get one).
“For it to go in was nice, especially here in front of our fans.”
Guillaume Latendresse also scored while Carey Price made 28 saves for Northeast Division-leading Montreal (9-2-2), which turned in a solid game to end a two-game losing run after a session of watching their mistakes on film and some firm words from coach Guy Carbonneau on Monday.
This time, Carbonneau called it “the best 60 minutes we’ve played this year.”
The Senators (6-7-2), who are last in the division, lost both games on a two-game road trip.
Higgins, who had scored twice in a game nine times in his five-year NHL career, had a goal in each period to give him four in seven games since returning from a groin injury.
He dedicated the hat-trick to his mother Susan.
“My dad gets a lot of credit for where I am right now in hockey but my mum’s the heart of the family and this is for her,” he said.
Price rebounded from a weak outing in a 6-3 loss in Toronto on Saturday night to post his first shutout of the season and the fourth of his career. His last shutout was 3-0 against Ottawa on April 1, which was the last time the two teams met.
The highlight for the 21-year-old was a save on Dany Heatley in alone in the third period that he said hit him in the finger.
“It was tough to lose a game like that – 6-3 – especially on a Saturday in Toronto, but I thought our guys did a great job of bouncing back,” said Price.
“I think this was the best compete game we played all year. Other than that breakaway, I don’t think they generated a whole lot.”
Montreal enjoyed a 31-28 shot advantage over the Senators, who had a strong game from goalie Alex Auld despite the four goals.
The Canadiens were short-handed when Saku Koivu shovelled a pass from his own end to the far blue-line, sending Higgins in alone to lift the puck over Auld 7:22 into the game.
Sergei Kostitsyn slipped the rebound of Ryan O’Byrne’s point shot to Higgins for a shot into an open side 14:11 into the second period.
That goal was the killer, said Sens coach Craig Hartsburg, because it came just after Ottawa failed to score on a power play.
“It was a game we gave away in the second period,” he said. “We had momentum going.
“We had a power play and we scrambled and then they scored. That was the story of the game.”
Latendresse got his first goal in 11 games with a one-timer to the top corner after Robert Lang won a face-off in the Ottawa zone late in the period.
With 3:25 left in the game, Higgins took a pass from Tanguay at centre ice and went in alone to score on a high shot to the stick side.
“It was a good game for Chris – he’s got to remember it and play like this every night,” said Carbonneau. “He has to play well defensively, and use his speed and his shot.
“We know what (Higgins’ linemates) Koivu and Tanguay can do. If Higgins tries to play the same game, they’ll never get a shot on the net.”
Ottawa’s Jarkko Ruutu had the sellout crowd of 21,273 seething early in the third when he nailed Maxime Lapierre with an elbow to the jaw along the boards, drawing a charging call, and then fought to a draw with Francis Bouillon.
Ruutu was later sent to the dressing room with a 10-minute misconduct for yapping at Lapierre on the bench, and waved to the braying crowd as he left the ice.
“They cheered for me, so why not thank them,” said Ruttu. “I want to be black or white – love me or hate me. I don’t want to be a gray area.”‘
Carbonneau said he hopes the NHL reviews the incident because “it was a shot to the head.”
It was a rare night on which Montreal shut down Ottawa’s big three of Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza, who combined for 42 points in eight games against the Canadiens last season.
It has been six games since Alfredsson was moved onto Mike Fisher’s line. Spezza has only one assist in his last five games.
Notes: Last season, Ottawa was 5-3-0 against Montreal, but lost the last two meetings. … Tom Kostopoulos served the first of his three-game suspension for a hit from behind on Toronto’s Mike Van Ryn. Steve Begin and Patrice Brisebois were healthy scratches for Montreal. … Luke Richardson sat out for Ottawa.