MONTREAL – Veterans Alex Tanguay, Alex Kovalev and Saku Koivu got together Tuesday night and gave the Montreal Canadiens just what they needed – a victory.
Tanguay had two goals and three assists, Kovalev scored twice and Koivu had another as the Canadiens ended a five-game losing streak with 6-3 NHL victory over the Atlanta Thrashers. The line was put together only a day earlier by coach and general manager Bob Gainey, who put the accent on experience in a bid to shake his team out of a tailspin.
“We were desperate,” said Tanguay after the third five-point game of his career and the first since 2004 against Vancouver. “We didn’t have time to wait a couple of games for it to click.
“We need to win now.”
Glen Metropolit also scored for the Canadiens (37-27-9), who scored six goals for the first time since a 6-2 win over Toronto on Jan. 8. Montreal moved two points clear of Florida in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
It was only the second win for the Canadiens since Gainey replaced the fired Guy Carbonneau behind the bench. They are 2-3-2 since then.
Joey Crabb, Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Bogosian scored for 13th-place Atlanta (30-38-6), which has lost three of its last four.
The Canadiens had scored only three power-play goals in their previous nine games, but went 3-for-6 against Atlanta, who have the 30-team league’s worst penalty killing.
“We had to open up on the power play,” added Tanguay “We were too stationary.
“When the shot comes in from the point, we need to get to the net a hopefully, get some bounces and rebounds.”
Gainey has been juggling his line-up liberally to find combinations that work and looks to have found at least one.
“Koivu’s line certainly performed in the role we put them in,” he said. “They were a good working trio of players.
“We need that offensive threat on the power play. They played like they wanted to play with each other.”
Another line formed for the occasion of Metropolit, Chris Higgins and Mathieu Dandenault had a strong night checking Atlanta’s top trio of Kovalchuk, Todd White and Bryan Little.
Gainey said better defensive play helped limit Atlanta to 25 shots, the least Montreal has allowed in 21 games since Feb. 6 against Buffalo. It was only the fifth time in that span the opposing team had fewer than 30 shots.
“The focus was to play a good strong game based on positional play,” Gainey added. “In the last two periods, we were difficult to pass through.
“We took plays away from them before they entered the zone, so we had about 15 shots less.”
The Canadiens also got a decent game from goalie Carey Price, who had not won since March 10 against Edmonton.
Despite being outshot 10-4 in the opening period, Montreal got the lead at 7:21 when a quick pass from Kovalev and a deke had Tanguay in alone to beat Kari Lehtonen, who had been bumped by his own defenceman.
But Guillaume Latendresse neglected to cover the point when Patrice Brisebois pinched, giving Atlanta a three-on-one finished by Crabb after tic-tac-tie passes from Rich Peverley and Garnet Exelby at 14:02.
Montreal struck 32 seconds into the second frame as a stretch pass from Andrei Markov led to a two-man rush that saw Metropolit redirect Chris Higgins’ pass inside the near post.
Only 25 seconds later, Koivu was sent off for holding and Kovalchuk tied it with his 38th of the season with an off-wing wrist shot that went in off Price’s glove. Eric Perrin picked up his 100th career point on the play.
The Canadiens struck on their first power play chance as Kovalev was in the slot to backhand a rebound into an open net at 8:37.
A double minor to Bryan Little saw Montreal add two more, as Tanguay one-timed a feed from Koivu at 13:46 and Kovalev saw his partly-whiffed shot float in over a sprawled Lehtonen at 15:24.
“It still hit the cross-bar,” Kovalev said with a grin. “I’ve hit so many posts this year.”
Only 23 seconds into the third period, Tanguay fed Koivu alone in front to slide in his 14th of the season, but Bogosian got it back at 8:13 on a screened wrist shot from the slot.
Montreal continues a homestand Thursday against Tampa Bay and Saturday night against Buffalo.
Notes: The Canadiens have not lost six games in a row since Feb. 6-17, 2007 . . . Canadiens assistant coach Doug Jarvis celebrated his 54th birthday . . . Brisebois tied Doug Harvey for third place in career games played with Montreal by a defenceman with 890. Larry Robinson leads with 1,202 and Serge Savard played 917.