OTTAWA — There was no denying the sense of relief from the Montreal Canadiens Saturday night.
Players jumped to their feet as Ilya Kovalchuk scored the overtime winner to give Montreal a 2-1 win over the Ottawa Senators.
Most importantly, the win put an end to the Canadiens eight-game losing streak.
“That was a big goal for us,” admitted Carey Price who made 41 saves. “Obviously things haven’t been rosy around here, but it was a nice breath that was breathed into this team."
Kovalchuk signed a one-year, two-way contract on Jan. 3 with the Canadiens and was happy to play a part in the win.
“It’s good to get a first goal as a (Canadien), especially in OT,” said Kovalchuk. “I think the win is way more important to snap that eight-game losing streak and we need to build from there.”
Scoring game winners will make anyone popular, but Canadiens coach Claude Julien says Kovalchuk has fit right in since joining the team.
“He’s come in and been the ultimate pro,” said Julien. “(Saturday) he made a couple of nice passes where we had some great scoring chances and he scores the winning goal. He’s respectful of his shift lengths, he’s respectful of how we want to play. So, I think the guys look at a guy who’s been around for a long time buying in and he’s an easy guy to like.”
Coming into the game neither team had won since Dec. 23.
Montreal (19-20-7) is now 1-7-1 in its last nine, while the Senators are 0-4-3 through their last seven.
Nick Suzuki scored in regulation for the Canadiens (19-20-7).
Price was instrumental for the Montreal on Saturday night and is hopeful that this can be the thing that kickstarts a winning streak.
“Winning solves all problems it seems,” said Price with a laugh.
Like his players, Julien was more than a little relieved to see the losing streak come to an end.
“The first win after that many losses is never an easy one,” Julien said. “We’ll take it and hopefully we’ll build from that.”
The Senators (16-22-7) were coming off a 3-2 shootout loss to the Red Wings in Detroit the night before. Marcus Hogberg, who got his second start in as many nights, kept Ottawa in the game making 23 saves.
While the losses continue to pile up for the Senators, players feel there’s a lot of good things being done and shouldn’t be overlooked.
“We’re going in the right direction, that’s one thing I know,” said Jean-Gabriel Pageau. “Everyone is on the same page and is playing the same way and that’s a good thing. When you lose by one goal it means you’re in every game.”
Trailing 1-0, the Senators were finally able to beat Price at 13:32 of the third period on a broken play. Anthony Duclair came into the slot and was unable to get a shot off, before a loose puck was inadvertently redirected into the net by Montreal’s Matthew Peca, who made his return to the lineup after missing the last 14 games. Drake Batherson, who was the last Senator to touch the puck, was credited with the goal.
“That’s probably the luckiest goal I’ve ever scored,” said Batherson, who played his fourth game since being recalled on Jan. 4.
Batherson wasn’t as fortunate in overtime as he was caught staring down a two-on-one when Kovalchuk scored.
“That’s probably the first time since being a pro playing a two-on-one defensively,” said Batherson. “I didn’t really know what to do, but obviously it was a nice shot and hopefully I don’t get a two-on-one on me again.”
The Canadiens had a great opportunity to regain the lead minutes later, but Nate Thompson missed a wide-open net.
Both goalies were at their finest in the second making a number of big stops.
Hogberg made a great save on Artturi Lehkonen midway through the period, while Price made a big save on Chris Tierney as he broke in alone with Ottawa shorthanded. The Senators were swarming in the final minute of the period, but could not find a way to beat Price.
Shots were 8-8 in the opening period, but the Canadiens had the better chances and were finally able to beat Hogberg as Suzuki, with his ninth, opened the scoring on the power play midway through the opening period.
Notes: Ottawa’s Mark Borowiecki missed his second straight game due to the flu. The Canadiens were without Brendan Gallagher as he was dealing with headaches following Thursday’s 4-2 loss to Edmonton. Prior to Thursday's loss, Gallagher had missed four straight games due to a concussion. Ben Chiarot missed his second straight game due to a lower body injury.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 11, 2020.
Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press