Just when it looked like the Philadelphia Flyers might steal the series opener from the Montreal Canadiens, Alex Kovalev and Tom Kostopoulos stole the show.
Kostopoulos potted the winner 48 seconds into overtime as the Canadiens rallied for a 4-3 triumph in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal at the Bell Centre on Thursday night.
Andrei Markov kept the puck in the Philadelphia zone and fired it toward the net, where Kostopoulos swept in a rebound for his first-ever winning goal in OT.
"Markov made a good play," Kostopoulos said. "[Martin] Biron made a good save on the first shot and I was lucky to get the rebound.
"It is exciting. It is unbelievable how we came back twice to tie it up."
"Everybody thinks when you're at home it should be easy," Kovalev told CBC Sports. "But it is not going to be easy.
"They put in a good effort, they played really well. But we battled back."
Kovalev forced OT with a power-play goal with 29 seconds remaining in regulation.
After Mike Richards was penalized with 69 seconds left for kneeing Kovalev, the Canadiens pulled rookie goaltender Carey Price to make it a 6-on-4 advantage.
Saku Koivu won a faceoff back to Kovalev, who stepped in behind the Canadiens captain and rifled a wrist shot to the top left corner for the tying goal — his second of the night and fourth of the playoffs.
"The puck was in the scrum and, all of a sudden, it just came out," Kovalev said. "It was just perfect timing."
"Saku has been our best faceoff man for I don't know how many years," Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau said. "Fortunately, the centreman on the other side broke his stick."
Andrei Kostitsyn scored the other goal and Price posted 30 saves for the top-ranked Canadiens, who were extended to seven games by the Boston Bruins in their opening-round series.
Montreal's power play, which led the NHL with a 24.1 per cent success rate, was 2-for-7 after sputtering at a nine per cent clip (3-32) in the opening round.
The Flyers, who rated second in power-play efficiency at 22 per cent, went 2-7 to improve to 10-43 in the playoffs.
"They won and it doesn't matter how it happened," Flyers head coach John Stevens said. "I think we can be better, we will be better and we will bounce back."
R.J. Umberger opened the scoring 13:15 into the contest for the sixth-seeded Flyers, who slipped past the third-ranked Washington Capitals 3-2 in overtime in Game 7 of that quarter-final.
Jim Dowd and Joffrey Lupul had Philadelphia's other goals and Martin Biron made 30 saves, including impressive stops on Andrei Kostitsyn's penalty shot and a pair of breakaways by Tomas Plekanec.
"They really get the puck up fast," Umberger said. "They gets lots of odd-man breaks."
Flyers get fluke goal
The Flyers opened the scoring on a fluke goal credited to Umberger, as Canadiens defenceman Patrice Brisebois extended his stick to intercept Umberger's pass into the slot and inadvertently poked the puck off the left post and into the net.
"It wasn't a bad play," Carbonneau said. "It was bad luck."
Montreal had dominated to that point, with Koivu and Brisebois hitting posts, but Philadelphia went ahead 2-0 on Dowd's slapshot from the high slot with 3:11 left in the first period.
"We cannot be pleased with that first period," Canadiens defenceman Mike Komisarek said.
"It was tough to get fired up," Koivu said. "We didn't have the same jump."
Montreal threatened early in the second period, but Biron lunged to his left to snare Mark Streit's slapshot from the point.
Kostitsyn was hauled down on a breakaway and awarded a penalty shot 6½ minutes into the period, but he couldn't fool Biron with a forehand deke.
Kostitsyn made amends at the 9:44 mark, scooping up the loose puck off a whiffed shot from sibling Sergei Kostitsyn and snapping it past Biron for his fourth goal of the playoffs.
Kovalev tied it 2-2 with 3:57 left in the period, whacking a Plekanec rebound out of midair for a short-handed goal.
Video review confirmed it was legit, and television replays showed Kovalev's stick striking the crossbar on the follow-through.
"We thought maybe he got that stick above the crossbar," Umberger said. "But they [video officials] got the final look."
"Any time a call is made on the ice, it is going against you because it has to be conclusive the other way [to be overturned]," Stevens said. "I just thought his stick hit the net after it hit the puck so, logically, you would think it was a high stick."
Lupul was credited with the go-ahead goal 19 seconds into the third period, when Price fumbled Braydon Cobourn's slapshot from the point and the puck glanced off Lupul's right shin and into the net.
"I'm very proud of the effort tonight," Stevens said. "It was our third game in four nights and it is important for us to get some rest.
"I'm not making excuses. But I was really happy with the way we responded from Marty on out - it was a gutsy effort."
Daniel Briere, the leading scorer in the playoffs with six goals and 11 points, was limited to three shots by the Canadiens.
Briere, a former junior star with the Drummondville Voltiguers, was booed vociferously by Montreal fans still irked that he signed with the Flyers instead of the Canadiens last July 1.
The players, though, seemed oblivious to the deafening crowd of 21,273.
"There is so much emotion," Komisarek said. "We talked about playing with controlled emotion."
Game 2 goes Saturday at Montreal (CBC, 7 p.m. ET).