TORONTO – The Montreal Canadiens were in a hurry to pack up their equipment and leave the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night.
After watching goaltender Jaroslav Halak turn in another game-stealing performance, they wanted to make sure they actually got out of town with the two points.
“Usually games like this you try to run as fast as you can out of the building,” forward Scott Gomez said after Montreal beat the Maple Leafs 3-2 in overtime. “I’ll be honest. Jaro kept us in.”
The Canadiens goalie has been on an unbelievable run during a four-game win streak, turning aside 180 of 186 shots directed his way. He made 47 saves against the Leafs on Saturday before winger Andrei Kostitsyn scored 34 seconds into overtime.
Halak has shared the crease with Carey Price this season – watching Price get nine straight starts at one point – but won’t relinquish the No. 1 duties as long as he keeps this up.
“I think he’s probably at his best so far this year,” said coach Jacques Martin. “He seems to be in a zone and has made a lot of excellent saves.”
Kostitsyn’s winner came on a hard wrist shot from the top of the circle that eluded Leafs netminder Jonas Gustavsson. Montreal is now 10-3 in games that get past regulation this season.
Gomez and Tomas Plekanec also scored for the Canadiens (19-18-3), who visit Ottawa on Monday night.
Ian White and Jason Blake replied for Toronto (13-17-9).
The Maple Leafs found themselves in a familiar position early on, falling behind 2-0 for the 19th time in 39 games this year.
Gomez opened the scoring on a power play at 3:34 of the first period after Gustavsson failed to control a rebound. Plekanec made it 2-0 just 54 seconds later, turning Leafs defenceman Jeff Finger inside-out and burying a high shot.
“It’s always tough when they get two early goals,” said Gustavsson.
Despite the start, Montreal wasn’t able to sustain much offensive momentum. Instead, the Habs sat back and relied on Halak, who was air-tight in the face of another offensive onslaught.
Montreal’s shots against in the last four games are 40, 50, 47 and 49.
“I think we stopped skating,” said Plekanec. “We didn’t skate at all, we were just watching. We’ve got to be better. It’s great we got two points, we found a way to win in the overtime, but we can’t be satisfied with how we played in the second and third period.”
Halak held Toronto off the scoreboard during a 5-on-3 power play that lasted 1:18 in the first period and stood tall on an Alexei Ponikarovsky breakaway in the second. He wasn’t beaten until Toronto’s 33rd shot of the night, a blast from the point by White that made its way through traffic at 15:07 of the second.
The Maple Leafs tied the game 2-2 at 2:41 of the third on an unusual goal from Blake. The Leafs winger was batting at a loose puck from the edge of the crease and saw it go in after he was shoved from behind by Montreal defenceman Marc-Andre Bergeron.
That was all they could get behind the Slovak.
“Halak has been playing well, we had a lot of shots on him and had good traffic in front of him,” said Blake. “He’s a good goaltender.”
Toronto had its fair share of chances to win the game in regulation.
Niklas Hagman rang a shot off the post on a rush up the left wing before Halak got his glove on a hard shot from Phil Kessel. With roughly 10 seconds left in regulation, Kessel missed an empty side of the net with a one-timer.
The Habs have climbed into seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings and will face three more games on a season-long seven-game road trip.
Even though they’d like to give their goaltender more support, they’re a little concerned about changing things up.
“It just shows the focus he’s had,” said Gomez. What can you say? He’s in a zone. It’s almost like you’re scared not to give him that many shots because we don’t know what will happen.”
Notes: Plekanec has 10 points (2-8) in his last four games. … Toronto had more power plays in the first period (3) than it did in its previous two games (2). … Nikolai Kulemin was moved to the Leafs top line, playing alongside Matt Stajan and Kessel. … Montreal’s seven-game road trip is its longest in seven years. … The Habs are one goal short of 20,000 in franchise history … Announced attendance at Air Canada Centre was 19,250.