MONTREAL – It couldn’t have been a better night for Montreal natives Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier – or their beleaguered coach Rick Tocchet.
Not only did the star forwards provide all the goals for a 3-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night, they also ended the Tampa Bay Lightning’s nine-game losing streak, got back at the Bell Centre boo-birds, and helped get a win for Tocchet and struggling goalie Olaf Kolzig.
“It feels good,” said St. Louis, whose two goals gave him five in his last five games. “I’m playing with confidence now and I’m trying to spread that around.
“The team is going in the right direction now.”
Lecavalier, booed for no particular reason by the sellout crowd of 21,273 each time he touched the puck, had the other goal as Tampa Bay (7-14-8) got its first victory since a 4-1 win over Nashville on Nov. 21.
The win was also a long time coming for Tocchet, who improved to 2-7-4 since taking over as head coach from the fired Barry Melrose. It came amid controversy over Melrose calling Tocchet a “puppet” Tuesday, and saying the Lightning’s owners meddle in coaches’ decisions.
“I think Rick Tocchet is doing a great job,” said Lecavalier, the team captain. “Players respect him.
“It doesn’t show on paper, but we’re playing better as a team and hopefully, we’ll carry that on and build on this win.”
Lecavalier added: “We focus on what we have to do. We don’t listen to what (Melrose) says any more. We’ve got great players here, we have a great coaching staff, and we’re moving forward.”
Tocchet was equally dismissive of the former coach.
“It really doesn’t matter what he says, to be honest,” he said. “Stuff like that is like a fly on your back – you just swat it away.”
Patrice Brisebois scored for Montreal (16-7-5), which is now 4-1-1 on a seven-game homestand that ends Saturday night against Washington.
The Canadiens came out thinking the Lightning would be easy prey, but they were outworked by a Tampa team that had played the night before (a 4-2 loss in Buffalo), and was playing its third game in four nights. Even worse, their flight from Buffalo was delayed and they didn’t get into Montreal until midday on Thursday.
“It’s disappointing to pass up on an opportunity like that,” said Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau. “I didn’t like the way we started or the way we played.
“They had lost nine in a row and we didn’t respond to their work ethic.”
Worse news for Carbonneau is that he lost captain Saku Koivu, who left early in the second period, came back 10 minutes later, then didn’t return for the third. The coach called it a lower body injury. Koivu is to have tests on Friday to see if it is serious.
The Canadiens had Jaroslav Halak in goal for a second straight game as starter Carey Price sat out with the flu. Kolzig made his first start in nine games for the Lightning in place of Mike Smith.
The Canadiens looked ready to romp as Brisebois jumped into the play, took a pass from Alex Kovalev and blasted a low shot through Kolzig’s pads 5:34 into the game. It was Montreal’s first power-play goal in four games and only their second in a span of 22 chances.
Moments later, Halak robbed Lecavalier with a glove save, but the Slovak goalie wasn’t at his best as St. Louis fired a shot on a rush down the left side, which appeared to go off Andrei Markov’s stick, to tie it at 10:49.
An Andrej Meszaros shot got between Halak’s pads and dropped into the crease for Lecavalier to tap in at 12:03.
The Canadiens were on a power play when a pass bounced off Matt D’Agostini’s stick to Lukas Krajicek, who swept the puck out to centre ice where St. Louis was behind the defence for a breakaway. He beat Halak to the glove side.
The 31-save effort was 38-year-old Kolzig’s first win since a 5-2 victory over Buffalo on Oct. 30.
Notes: The brain trust for Canada’s 2010 Olympic team – Steve Yzerman, Ken Holland, Kevin Lowe, Doug Armstrong and Johnny Misley – were at the Bell Centre. Yzerman, the executive director, said they have been watching players on their own but it is the first time the group has been together to watch and discuss potential players. … Tampa Bay’s Lecavalier and St. Louis are strong candidates to play at the Vancouver Games, but Price missed a chance to impress the team selectors, who are putting together a long list of candidates. … With Mathieu Dandenault and Christopher Higgins out with injuries suffered Tuesday against Calgary, Guillaume Latendresse and Ryan O’Byrne got back into the lineup after sitting out a handful of games each.