MONTREAL – Alex Kovalev is finding out how much more he can accomplish by doing a little less.
Sergei Kostitsyn scored twice and Kovalev notched the overtime winner as the Montreal Canadiens erased three one-goal deficits to down the Buffalo Sabres 4-3 on Saturday night.
It was a third straight game with a goal for Kovalev after going a career-high 19 games without finding the net.
“I’m trying not to do too much,” said Kovalev, who set up Kostitsyn’s tying goal with under five minutes left in regulation. “I came out this year and felt pretty good, so I felt like I could do a little bit extra. But it was time to go back and not try to do everything by yourself and use your partners a little bit.”
Alex Tanguay also scored for the Canadiens (18-9-5), who won their second straight following a three-game losing skid.
Derek Roy, Clarke MacArthur and Andrej Sekera scored for the Sabres (16-13-4), who have five points in their last four games.
Jaroslav Halak started his sixth straight game in place of the injured Carey Price and made 31 saves to even his record at 3-3 with a save percentage of .919 over that stretch. The Canadiens scored only four goals in his three losses, but put in 13 goals in his three wins.
“Halak was excellent again tonight,” coach Guy Carbonneau said. “The first few games he played this season, we always found a way to lose. Now we’re finding ways to win with him in goal. That’s great for his confidence.”
Kostitsyn’s two-goal performance followed his goal and assist in Thursday’s 5-2 win over Philadelphia. He had gone nine games without a point prior to Thursday, and was a healthy scratch for three games in the middle of the drought.
“I’m trying to work hard and help the team to win,” he said. “It’s good, I scored two goals.”
Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller – coming off a 40-save performance in a 5-0 shutout of the Los Angeles Kings on Friday night – was stellar for the second time in two nights. He turned aside 42 shots, including 21 in the third period and overtime.
“You’ve got to give them credit, they kept coming,” MacArthur said. “I thought our goalie played really well for us and it’s just too bad we got into penalty trouble. They’ve got a great power play and they showed it.”
Roy ran his point streak to a Sabres season-high nine games, notching five goals and eight assists over that span.
With the Canadiens enjoying their second power play of overtime, Kovalev moved toward the net from his usual spot on the right-wing half boards and put a wrister in off the post for his eighth of the season and his third in three games.
“He knew I would shoot it that way and I saw him move a little bit, but I tried to release it as quick as I can,” Kovalev said. “There wasn’t much room, but that’s my corner.”
It was Montreal’s second power-play goal of the game, making it only the second time this season the Canadiens have scored twice with the man advantage in consecutive games. By going 4-for-13 over the last two games the Canadiens matched their power-play production from their previous 11 contests.
“It’s tough to have a great power play, it’s the most frustrating part of the game right now and that’s for every team,” Carbonneau said. “I thought in the past we had scoring chances, but we got frustrated or tight with our sticks. Right now it’s starting to go in and the guys are a little more relaxed.”
The Canadiens had the best chances to win it earlier in overtime, getting a power play 25 seconds in when Sekera tripped Kovalev. Montreal only managed two shots on the first man advantage.
“I can say we really screwed up that one,” Kovalev said. “But we fixed it quickly.”
Robert Lang also nearly won it when he tipped in a Tomas Plekanec pass at 2:58, but he dislodged the net before the puck crossed the line and the goal was disallowed.
With the game tied 2-2 in the third Buffalo grabbed its third lead of the game on Sekera’s first of the year, a point shot that beat a screened Halak with Kovalev in the penalty box at 13:20.
But Kovalev redeemed himself shortly thereafter, beating Henrik Tallinder to a puck in the corner and finding Kostitsyn in front to tie it 3-3 at 15:06.
Roy opened the scoring off a neutral zone turnover, picking up the loose puck and coming in fast at Patrice Brisebois before using him as a screen to beat Halak high to the glove hand at 9:10 of the first.
Montreal tied it with only its second 5-on-3 goal of the season when Kostitsyn’s point shot went off Roy’s stick past Miller at 5:17 of the second.
But Buffalo re-gained the lead 2-1 before the end of the second just as a power play ended when Jason Pominville found MacArthur alone in front at 15:21.
Montreal came out for the third buzzing, with Miller making big stops on rookies Matt D’Agostini and Ben Maxwell early on. But Miller had little chance of seeing Tanguay’s tying goal as he tipped home a Roman Hamrlik wrist shot from the point at 3:26.
Notes: Montreal native Dave Jackson refereed the 1,000th game of his 18-year NHL career. He was honoured in a pre-game ceremony attended by his family and NHL director of officiating Stephen Walkom. … The Sabres were without captain and former Canadiens defenceman Craig Rivet (shoulder), as well as forwards Paul Gaustad (upper body), Patrick Kaleta (head) and Nathan Gerbe (upper body). … The Canadiens were without Andrei Kostitsyn (knee), goaltender Carey Price (leg), Saku Koivu (leg), Christopher Higgins (arm) and Mathieu Dandenault (leg)