MONTREAL – On a night when the Montreal Canadiens laboured to score, it took Saku Koivu two cracks at an open net to get the overtime winner.
The Canadiens captain’s first attempt was knocked down by Lightning forward Martin St. Louis, but the second went in off one of the many bodies that crowded into the crease at 1:45 of overtime for a 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning after blowing a two-goal lead on Thursday night.
“I saw the net was wide open and maybe I got too excited about it,” Koivu said. “I think I hit his glove, but then I got the rebound and I just wanted to get it in. I think it hit someone.”
“I was on my knees and couldn’t poke-check the puck or anything,” a dejected St. Louis said.
Alex Kovalev and Guillaume Latendresse scored in regulation time for Montreal (38-27-9), which won a second game in a row after a five-game losing run and stayed two points ahead of Florida for the eighth and final playoff spot in the NHL Eastern Conference.
David Koci scored his first goal in 86 career NHL games and Lukas Krajicek got his second of the season for the Lightning (24-33-17).
The Canadiens outshot the Bolts 36-19, marking the first time this season they have held an opponent to fewer than 20 shots.
But Montreal went only 1-for-8 on the power play and wasted chances could have cost them.
“I didn’t like the way we lost the 2-0 lead,” said Koivu. “I think there was some miscommunication on their second goal.
“That was a tough one. But I felt with the way we played and the chances we were getting, we’d get a goal. We played a good team game. We’d like to have won 2-0 and got the confidence from that, but we’ll take it.”
The Lightning were eliminated from playoff contention on Tuesday and they played like the season was over in the first period, when they were outshot 11-2.
Kovalev got the opening goal on a power play at 11:09, when he took a diagonal pass on the left wide and blasted his 20th of the season past Karri Ramo.
By the end of the second frame, the shots were 24-8, but Ramo was solid and Alex Tanguay rang a shot off the post on a power play as the Canadiens did everything but score.
Latendresse went around Ramo’s net and beat him to the other side as he tucked in his 12th of the season 5:48 into the third period. The Bell Centre crowd of 21,273 began singing Ole Ole and the game looked to be over.
But Koci, picked up on waivers from St. Louis on Nov. 20, broke Carey Price’s shutout bid at 10:26 as he got his stick on the puck during a wild scramble in the crease to score.
Then Price let in a soft one as Krajicek intercepted a Montreal clearing attempt at the blue-line and scored on a long wrist shot that deflected only slightly off a defender in front.
Montreal coach Bob Gainey, however, pointed no fingers.
“Preferably, we could have kept the lead, but I like the way we played,” he said. “We need the points – that’s important.
“But the most important thing is we were reliable and consistent throughout the game.”
Montreal forward Tom Kostopoulos picked up an assist to give him 22 points – tying a personal high set three times previously in his career. A pair of assists gave Andrei Markov 50 for the season, tops among NHL defencemen.
The Lightning move on to Washington, where they face the Capitals for the first time since Alex Ovechkin’s controversial 50th goal celebration raised ire among Lightning players in Tampa on March 19. The Caps are 4-0 against Tampa Bay this season.
Notes: Vincent Lecavalier leads the Lighting in career games played with 784, goals (302), assists (367), points (669) and power play goals (85). Martin St. Louis leads in short-handed goals with (27). . . Paul Szczechura, Cory Murphy and Marek Malik didn’t dress for the Bolts. Andrei Kostitsyn sat out for Montreal with a flu, while Ryan O’Byrne, Georges Laraque and Greg Stewart were scratched.