DENVER – Throughout his career, Andrei Kostitsyn has tried every trick in his repertoire to slip a puck past Peter Budaj.
So he took a much simpler approach when he found himself on a breakaway – put the puck between the pads.
Kostitsyn scored the tiebreaking goal with 2:16 remaining, helping the Montreal Canadiens snap a seven-game road losing skid with a 4-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Friday night.
“I never got one by him before,” Kostitsyn said. “I came in hard on the net, made a good move and got it past him. I got it past him.”
That he did, much to Budaj’s dismay.
“I didn’t get it,” Budaj said. “He put a good move on me and I didn’t get it.”
Just when it looked as if the Avalanche might salvage at least an improbable point, it was yanked away.
Tyler Arnason tied it at 2 on a power-play goal midway through the third period, only to have Kostitsyn put the Habs back on top, snapping a four-game slide.
“It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t nice, but we got two points,” goalie Jaroslav Halak said. “It was a tough game because they were shooting from everywhere.”
And Halak was up to the task, stopping a career-high 46 shots. He even thwarted three breakaway chances, including two in the first period that got him into the flow.
“That sharpened me up,” Halak said.
It may have also earned him more time in goal. All-star goalie Carey Price has struggled, losing seven of his last nine games.
“The way we’ve been playing lately, we needed one goalie to step up,” Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau said. “I think Jaroslav did that tonight. He made the saves when we needed it.”
The Habs hadn’t had much luck in the Mile High City until Friday night, ending a seven-game winless streak. Montreal’s last regular-season win in Denver was Feb. 6, 1982, against the Colorado Rockies, who later became the New Jersey Devils.
“It’s never easy to play here, especially with the altitude,” Carbonneau said.
But there was a time when the Canadiens dominated in Denver. From 1976 to ’82, the team was 12-0 against the Rockies at McNichols Arena.
“When you can play three, four, five times during the year you can get used to (the altitude),” said Carbonneau, whose team was making their first visit to Pepsi Center in more than three years. “Guys started getting tired at the end of the game and they took advantage of it. I thought in the third period we kind of gained the momentum back a little bit.”
Defencemen Francis Bouillon and Patrice Brisebois gave the Canadiens an early lift, scoring 57 seconds apart in the opening period.
After going 16 games without a goal, Bouillon has scored in two straight contests. His goal was set up by a pinpoint cross-ice pass from Max Pacioretty.
Brisebois, a former Avalanche player, beat Budaj with a wrist shot from the left circle 20 seconds into a power play. Colorado had killed 17 straight penalties before Brisebois’ blast.
“Defencemen have to score when they get the chances,” Bouillon said. “I just did what a defenceman has to do. Patrice did the same thing as I did. He jumped in and got off a quick shot for his goal.”
With his two assists against Colorado, Saku Koivu has 436 in his career, moving him past Yvan Cournoyer for sixth place on Montreal’s career assist list.
More importantly to him, Montreal got a much-needed win.
“We’ve had some meetings in the last week and it was time to deliver that on the ice,” he said. “You can talk all you want off the ice, but you have to get some wins.”
The Avalanche know the feeling, mired in a four-game slump.
“What can you say? It’s extremely disappointing,” John-Michael Liles said. “If we put forth that effort each and every night, we’ll put ourselves in a lot better position to win a lot of hockey games.”
Notes: Montreal recalled F Kyle Chipchura from the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League before the game. … Montreal was without forward Tomas Plekanec as he served the first of a two-game suspension for tripping Edmonton defenceman Denis Grebeshkov from behind in Wednesday’s game. Plekanec, who was suspended without pay, is eligible to return Feb. 18 at Washington. … Although this was the 5,998th game in Habs history, it was only the second time the team has played a regular-season game on Friday the 13th. The team is 2-0 on the superstitious date.