MONTREAL – Saku Koivu got both things he wanted on his return to Montreal—a warm reception from the fans and a win for the Anaheim Ducks.
The former Canadiens captain was nearly the goat as Max Pacioretty scored power-play goals on two of the three minor penalties he took, the second of them tying the game with 13 seconds left in regulation.
But Bobby Ryan got the only goal in a shootout as the Ducks pulled out a 4-3 victory on Saturday night.
”It didn’t go the way we planned with the late goal and getting called for three penalties, but the reaction I got from the fans—there’s no words to describe how I felt at the end,” Koivu said. ”I’ll remember that the rest of my life.”
The Canadiens trailed 3-1 with under four minutes to play, but Mathieu Darche brought the Habs within one before Pacioretty tied it on a power-play with goaltender Carey Price pulled for an extra attacker.
Koivu, a popular Canadien for 13 years, was in his first game in Montreal since he parted ways with the club in 2009. The bond between the gifted centre and the fans was reinforced in 2002 when he battled cancer and returned at the end of the season to lead the club to a first-round playoff win over Boston.
The Bell Centre crowd stood for a long ovation before the opening faceoff for the popular Koivu, who was not offered a contract after the 2008-09 season and signed as a free agent with Anaheim. They cheered again as he was named one of the three stars.
”For some reason I was so nervous before the game that physically I didn’t feel well,” the 36-year-old said. ”But I got my legs going as the game went on.
”It was maybe the toughest game I’ve ever played.”
Cam Fowler, Ryan and Corey Perry, on an assist fro Koivu, scored in regulation for the Ducks (27-20-4), who went 2-for-4 on the power play. Anaheim lost 5-2 on Thursday in Toronto but is now 9-3-0 since star centre Ryan Getzlaf suffered sinus fractures Dec. 28.
Montreal (27-17-5) was coming off a 7-1 win Friday night in Ottawa.
The Canadiens looked sluggish for two periods, then outshot the Ducks 23-5 in the third period for a 40-26 overall edge in shots.
”We’d have liked to set the tone earlier, but they were waiting for us here and we were in our fourth game this week, and those factors came into play,” said Montreal coach Jacques Martin. ”We picked up six of eight points this week, so we have to keep moving forward.”
The energy from the Koivu ovation died quickly in a plodding opening period. Fowler got the only goal during a power play on a point shot that went off the stick of Andreas Engqvist, off the tip of Roman Hamrlik’s blade and past Price at 15:07.
Koivu was called twice for minor penalties early in the middle frame. On the second, a slashing call, Montreal equalized as Pacioretty slid the puck through Jonas Hiller’s pads from the side of the net at 7:55.
An innocent-looking play turned into an Anaheim goal at 16:26 as Joffrey Lupul poked in a rebound on a goal credited to Ryan.
With 17 seconds left in the period, Koivu slipped the puck to Perry in front for his 25th of the season.
The building woke up when Yannick Weber’s point shot was tipped past Hiller by Darche with 3:40 left to play, and was in a roar when Koivu was hit with his third penalty of the game with 1:15 left on a questionable call for tripping James Wisniewski.
With Price pulled for an extra attacker, Pacioretty tipped in a loose puck from the crease. The 21-year-old has three goals in two games since leaving a 2-1 loss in Buffalo on Tuesday with bruised ribs.
It was also the first game back in Montreal for Maxim Lapierre, who requested a trade and was sent to the Ducks in December. He drew some booing early on and had a quiet game, with 8:17 of ice time and no shots on goal, although he won seven of eight faceoffs.
It was only the third visit for the Ducks since they last lost in Montreal in 2001.
Notes: It was also a homecoming fro ex-Habs Kyle Chipchura and Paul Mara, but Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle opted to leave both out of the lineup along with Sheldon Brookbank. . . Jeff Halpern missed a second game with an upper body injury, although he skated Saturday morning. Alexandre Picard and Tom Pyatt were healthy scratches.