Posted on April 25, 2008 12:17 AM | Permalink
MONTREAL – Flashback to April of 2007, and when the Montreal Canadiens season was on the line, Alex Kovalev was on the bench.
With the Habs needing a goal in the dying seconds to make it to overtime in their final regular-season game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, needing only one point to make the playoffs, Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau decided he didn’t want Kovalev on the ice.
But in the third period of Game 1 between the Canadiens and the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night, when Carbonneau needed a goal, it appeared he wanted no one but Kovalev on the ice.
It paid off.
Kovalev was thrown out there for 10 shifts and nearly nine minutes of playing time in the third period with the Habs trailing the Flyers 3-2, with Carbonneau putting him on three different lines at various points in the final 20 minutes of regulation.
On the last of those 10 shifts, Kovalev saw a loose puck sitting in the circle after Saku Koivu won his 17th of 24 faceoffs on the night and made no mistake, firing his second of the game past a stunned Martin Biron to get the Habs to overtime, where plugger Tom Kostopoulos won it at the 48-second mark to put Montreal ahead 1-0 in the series.
“That’s what’s fun about the good players,” Carbonneau said. “They’re maybe different characters, and they’re maybe a little tougher to handle. But when it’s time to play they want to play, they want to be on the ice, they want to have the puck. Alex is like that, Saku is like that, Andrei Markov is like that. Alex has been a joy this year. There were a lot of things said about him last year, but he came back this year and wanted to prove to everybody that he was still a good player. Almost 90 games later, he’s still doing the same thing.”
That desire to be on the ice resulted in a perfect storm in the eyes of Kovalev, who instinctively moved towards the slot after Koivu won his draw cleanly (helped in no small part by Jeff Carter’s stick shattering in two) and found a puck gift-wrapped for him.
“It was so perfect,” Kovalev said after the game. “You get maybe one chance in a whole game where you can have the puck laying there perfectly for a perfect shot.”
Biron livid over call
Kovalev is right on the first part, those chances are very few and far between, but it’s not every player who unleashes a perfect shot when presented with that situation. And his shot was just that, perfect.
Kovalev’s footprints were all over this game, from the controversial shorthanded goal that may or may not have been hit with a high stick to tie the game 2-2 in the second, to drawing a kneeing penalty on Mike Richards late in the third which led to his late-game heroics.
Of course, if you ask the Flyers, Kovalev benefited from some largesse on the part of referees Don Van Massenhoven and Mike Hasenfratz. Many of the Flyers were steaming after Kovalev’s first goal of the night withstood a video review, with goalie Martin Biron racing out to centre ice to dispute the decision with the refs, only to be waved back to his net by Hasenfratz.
A Flyers executive was seen discussing the play with Biron after the game, and his anger was tough to ignore. Flyers head coach John Stevens also believed the penalty call on Richards was questionable, but he didn’t fault his young star on the play because he thought he was making the right play.
“You’ve got one of the best players in the league in a one-on-one situation, the only way you can defend him is to take the body,” Stevens said. “That was his intention, and in his mind he was doing the right thing. You certainly can’t fault the player on that.”
This was the third time in these playoffs the Flyers blew a two-goal cushion to lose after doing the same thing in Games 1 and 6 of the Washington Capitals series. But there was no reason for the Flyers to feel down Thursday, especially considering it was their third game in four nights in their third different city.
“It’s only one game and it’s a best of seven,” defenceman Randy Jones said. “A loss is a loss in the playoffs, it doesn’t matter how you lost. We’re not hanging our heads, we know we can play with these guys.”