MONTREAL – Christopher Higgins has had trouble finding the net this year, but his latest goal may be looked back on as the one that saved the Montreal Canadiens season.
Higgins tied it with less than two minutes to play and Saku Koivu scored the power play winner at 19:37 of the third to lead the Montreal Canadiens to a 4-3 victory Saturday over the Los Angeles Kings that put a halt to a season-high four game losing streak.
“It can turn around in one game, just like that,” said Higgins, who scored for the first time in nine games dating back to Nov. 26. “When you lose four in a row you feel like you’re never going to win again, especially with the pressure in this city. It’s all forgotten now.”
Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn also scored for the Canadiens (28-15-6) in front of a relieved sellout crowd of 21,273 at the Bell Centre.
Michal Handzus, Dustin Brown and Jarret Stoll scored while Kyle Calder added two assists for the Kings (20-21-7), who saw their three-game win streak come to an end.
Trailing 3-2 late in the third, Higgins fought off Drew Doughty for a loose puck in the Kings end and flipped a shot over Jonathan Quick’s right shoulder for his 10th of the season at 18:07 of the third.
“It’s one of the nicer goals I’ve scored, especially recently because they haven’t come too easily for me this year,” Higgins said. “But it’s more of a team relief than a personal relief.”
Kings coach Terry Murray felt Higgins should have gotten a penalty for hauling Doughty down in the battle for the puck.
“It was a wrestling move,” Murray said.
The Canadiens went on the power play at 19:29 of the third when Calder took his second straight cross-checking penalty, and it didn’t take them long to convert when Andrei Markov’s point shot trickled under Quick and Koivu pushed it over the goal-line for his eighth of the year at 19:37 to make it 4-3 Montreal.
“It would have been very tough to get back up from a loss like this,” Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said. “The good news is we didn’t give up, we worked for 60 minutes. We know we have certain obstacles we’ll have to tackle to get back on the right track, and this game was one of them.”
Kings defenceman Denis Gauthier may be facing disciplinary action after he received a charging major and game misconduct at 3:50 of the second period for leaving his feet and elbowing Canadiens defenceman Josh Gorges in the head.
Gorges looked dazed when he tried to get up and had blood trickling from his nose as he was helped to the Canadiens room. He returned by the end of the second and had a turnover that led to the Kings third goal, but he didn’t come out for the third period.
“Obviously it was filthy and the guy has a history of it so let’s hope the league does something about it,” Higgins said. “You saw his face after the hit and he wasn’t on earth, he was someplace else.”
Brown’s line with Calder and Stoll continued to click, as Brown now has six goals and three assists over a five-game scoring streak while Calder has two goals and five assists over the same span. Stoll centres the line and has three goals and three assists in his last four games.
Carey Price made 29 saves to halt a three-start losing streak for the Canadiens. It was the first time in that span he limited the opposition to three goals and he made a number of key saves, including a shorthanded breakaway by Alexander Frolov with less than four minutes to play to maintain the one-goal deficit.
“I think he fanned on it or something because he didn’t get all of it, he threw an off-speeder at me but it hit me in the leg anyway,” Price said. “It’s a start, but that’s all it is. We have to keep moving from here.”
Handzus gave the Kings the lead at 4:57 of the first with his eighth of the season and first in 19 games, but Plekanec tied it up at 11:41 on a rebound for his 10th of the season and his first point in nine games.
Kostitsyn’s team-leading 17th of the year came only three seconds into a 5-on-3 advantage following the Gauthier major penalty. Saku Koivu won the ensuing draw and Kostitsyn snapped it home at 3:53 of the second.
The Kings tied it at 13:30 after a poor clearing attempt by Roman Hamrlik eventually wound up on the stick of Calder, who set up Brown with an open net for his 20th of the season.
A Gorges turnover led directly to the go-ahead goal for L.A., with Calder stealing the puck and setting up Stoll for his 12th of the year at 18:16 of the second.
Notes: Higgins began the season as the team’s assistant captain, but the “A” is now being worn by D Mike Komisarek. . . . Canadiens winger Max Pacioretty had his first NHL fight when he squared off with Kings winger Wayne Simmonds in the first period. . . . Kings assistant coach and McGill University alumnus Jamie Kompon was to drop the ceremonial first puck at Saturday night’s McGill men’s hockey game against UQTR. The McGill Redmen celebrated their 132nd birthday Saturday.