Saku Koivu scored twice in the third period and Cristobal Huet made 41 saves to lead the Montreal Canadiens to a 4-2 comeback victory Thursday over the struggling Tampa Bay Lightning. Montreal scored three goals in the third to erase a 2-1 deficit after being dominated for 40 minutes by the Lightning, who outshot the Canadiens 33-10 through two periods of play.
“When you can get two points on a night like this, when you don’t really deserve it, it really makes a big difference in the standings,” Koivu said. “You can’t really have one reason why it’s happening, but it seems like we’re just finding a way to win close
games right now.”
Mark Streit and Maxim Lapierre also scored while Sheldon Souray had three assists for the Canadiens (18-8-5), who have collected at least a point in five straight games (3-0-2).
The Canadiens now have 41 points in 31 games, tying them with the Atlanta Thrashers for second most in the Eastern Conference with one game in hand.
Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis scored for the Lightning (14-15-2), who have won only once in their last eight games and have dropped three straight.
“I’m starting to get worried about my team,” said Lightning coach John Tortorella. “You need to get rewarded when you dominate the way we did, so I’m frustrated for them. We completely dominated them except for one guy, Huet, and that was obviously the difference.”
Huet was spectacular in the Montreal net to run his record to 12-3-3, shining most notably on a flashy glove save on Vincent Lecavalier in the first and going post-to-post to rob Filip Kuba of a sure goal in the second.
“I’m happy I was able to keep the team in the game, and that’s all I was concentrating on,” said Huet, who improved his league-leading save percentage to .933. “Against a talented team like that, you have to make one or two big saves.”
Marc Denis made 16 saves for the Lightning and dropped to 6-10-2.
Streit and Koivu’s goals both came short-handed to run the Canadiens league-leading total to nine on the season.
Lecavalier extended his point streak to eight games with an assist on St. Louis’s goal in the second period. Lecavalier has eight goals and seven assists during the streak, while St. Louis has eight goals and 13 assists in his last 12 games.
“We should have had that one,” Lecavalier said. “When it was 2-1 we should have gotten that third goal, but Huet made some very big saves that changed the momentum.”
With the Lightning ahead 2-1 in the third, Lapierre tied the game with his first career goal when he tipped in Mike Komisarek’s point shot at 6:38.
“I’ve been waiting for that one since I was a kid,” said a beaming Lapierre, a 21 year-old Montreal native who has a goal and an assist in two games since his call-up from the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs on Monday.
“I’m going to have a great night tonight with my family.”
Craig Rivet took a tripping penalty at 12:06 of the third, but it was the Canadiens who capitalized to take the lead. Alex Kovalev swept into the Tampa zone on a 2-on-2 rush before dropping a pass for Koivu, whose wrist shot found the far top corner for his 11th of the season and a 3-2 Montreal lead.
Tampa’s Eric Perrin looked to have tied it with 3:27 left in regulation, but a lengthy video review ruled that the puck never crossed the goal line despite the fact the red light came on.
Koivu iced it when he outraced Tampa defenceman Paul Ranger to score into an empty net at 19:14 of the third for his 12th of the season.
Montreal scored on its first shot of the game at 8:29 of the first when Souray fed Streit with a perfect pass on a shorthanded 2-on-1 break for the Swiss defenceman’s first goal of the season.
The Lightning tied it on the power play at 13:39 of the first when Richards converted a Vaclav Prospal feed with a falling one-timer for his 13th of the season.
Tampa Bay took the lead 2-1 at 18:42 of the second when, on a delayed penalty, Lecavalier’s shot was stopped by Huet but the rebound went straight to St. Louis on the other side of the net, and he buried it for his 19th of the year.
Notes: Canadiens captain Saku Koivu was playing in his 600th career game, while centre Tomas Plekanec played in the 100th of his career. … The Montreal Canadiens unveiled “Builders Row” in sections 104 through 107 of the Bell Centre earlier Thursday as part of the team’s build-up to its 100th anniversary in 2009. The initial inductees were Canadiens founder John Ambrose O’Brien, special advisor William Northey, former team president Donat Raymond and former owners Leo Dandurand, Jos Cattarinich, Louis Letourneau and Senator Hartland de Montarville Molson. In 2007, the Canadiens will add former general managers, and in 2008 former coaches will be added.