MONTREAL – Coach Jacques Martin showed confidence in Jaroslav Halak and was repaid in spades.
Starting in the next game after a loss for the first time this season, the Canadiens netminder made 45 saves to help Montreal end the Vancouver Canucks’ seven-game winning streak Tuesday with a 3-2 victory.
“It’s great – you lose and they still have confidence to play the next game,” said Halak, who was coming off a 3-2 overtime loss in Ottawa on Saturday.
That usually means handing the next start back to nominal No. 1 goalie Carey Price.
“I tried to do my best,” added Halak. “You need to get lucky on some shots and that’s what I was.”
Tomas Plekanec scored the game-winner in the third period after Sergei Kostitsyn and Maxim Lapierre scored in the first for Montreal (26-25-6), which ended a three-game winless run and jumped back into a playoff position.
Mikael Samuelsson and Ryan Kesler each scored a power-play goal for the Canucks (34-19-2), who outshot Montreal 20-9 in the third and 47-28 overall. Vancouver, which had scored only once on its previous 18 chances, went 2-for-5 with the man advantage.
It was the second game of Vancouver’s monster 14-game road trip while their home rink is taken over for the Winter Olympics. They had won 5-3 in Toronto on Saturday and next play Thursday night in Ottawa.
“Losses are never easy to take,” said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. “You’ve got to fight real hard to stay in the running in the NHL.
“Both conferences are really tight. We’ve got to have a good practice (on Wednesday) and get ready for Ottawa.”
Halak stopped NHL scoring leader Henrik Sedin on two close-in chances in the opening minute, and then did it again early in the second period. Sedin was held off the scoresheet for the second time in his last three games, although he was on the ice as his brother Daniel picked up an assist on Samuelsson’s goal.
Halak got a lot of help from his defence as well, who cleared several rebounds as the Canucks buzzed the net repeatedly in the third period.
The 24-year-old, who is building a case to start ahead of Peter Budaj for Slovakia at the Olympics, has been back-up to Price for most of the season. But his 15-8-2 record easily beats the struggling Price’s 11-17-4 mark and Halak has been the better goalie for most of the season.
Martin, not expansive at the best of times, offered only when asked why he gave Halak the start that “you look at all the factors and I decided that he was the goaltender I needed to use.”
He had more to say about strong games from his makeshift top line of Plekanec, who won 17 of 25 faceoffs, Kostitsyn and Benoit Pouliot, who had two assists.
“Plekanec played most of the night against the Sedins and kept them off the scoresheet – their goal was on a power play,” said Martin. “They did enormous work.”
The line’s normal left-winger, team goal-scoring leader Michael Cammalleri, missed the first of what will be many games as he sits out six weeks with a knee injury. Its right-winger, Andrei Kostitsyn, has been out for 13 games after knee surgery.
“Others have to step up,” said Sergei Kostitsyn, the younger of the Belarusian brothers. “I think I have to play like that every game, especially with Andrei and Cammalleri out.”
Roberto Luongo, playing his first game since he was yanked after the first period of a 5-3 comeback win in Toronto on Saturday, could not be blamed for the two goals he surrendered on nine shots in the opening period.
A turnover by the Canucks defence gave Kostitsyn room to slip around Kesler, move into the slot and score only his second goal of the season at 5:56. It was Montreal’s first even-strength goal in four games, ending a drought of 223 minutes 12 seconds.
Samuelsson’s point shot on a power play handcuffed Halak and dropped into the net to tie it at 8:24, but Lapierre was in front to bang in a pass across the crease from Mathieu Darche at 18:04 for some a rare goal from Montreal’s checking line.
The Canadiens had the sellout crowd of 21,273 rocking with some long stretches of pressure in the Vancouver zone in the second frame, but couldn’t add to their lead, although Kostitsyn went around Brad Lukowich and had Luongo down in the final minute only to shoot high over the net.
The teams were each short a man when Plekanec had two whacks at a puck in the crease before he flipped it over Luongo 9:14 into the third.
The gritty Kesler was in his usual spot in front of the crease to bat a puck out of the air that had rebounded off defenceman Roman Hamrlik’s body to close the gap to one goal with 5:50 left to play.
But with Luongo pulled for an extra attacker in the final minute, Montreal native Alexandre Burrows took a goaltender interference penalty that killed any chance of netting the equalizer.
The Canucks beat Montreal 7-1 on Oct. 7 in Vancouver.
Notes: Defenceman Sami Salo returned for the Canucks after missing four games with a groin injury and had two assists. D Kevin Bieksa (knee) and D Willie Mitchell (concussion) remain out of action. … Tanner Glass, Jannik Hansen and Nolan Baumgartner didn’t dress for Vancouver. … Montreal announced Tuesday that goal-scoring leader Michael Cammalleri would be out six weeks with a knee injury, but he won’t require surgery. … Jaroslav Spacek missed a third game with an upper body injury. … Ryan O’Byrne played his 100th NHL game.