Halak, Habs withstand San Jose rally
Goaltender Jaroslav Halak starred with 46 saves as the Montreal Canadiens held off Western kingpins San Jose for a 3-2 home victory on Saturday night.
Halak stood tall in the game's early minutes as the Sharks peppered the Montreal net.
Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges and Saku Koivu then scored in a span of less than seven minutes for the Canadiens late in the first to pave the way for their fourth straight win.
San Jose dominated much of the next two periods, with Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton drawing the visitors to within one with goals 49 seconds apart before Halak shut the door with several key third-period saves.
Montreal (34-22-7) moved to within one point of Philadelphia for fourth place in the Eastern Conference on Friday. The Canadiens beat the Flyers 4-3 on Friday night, with Halak making 35 stops.
"Credit Halak, he was great," said Sharks goalie Brian Boucher. "On the back end of back-to-back games, you think you'd be able to get to him, but he stood tall for them. He was the difference."
Boucher finished with 19 saves for San Jose. He was starting his second straight game as No. 1 goalie Evgeni Nabokov is one of the Sharks battling the flu.
San Jose dropped to 42-10-9. While the Sharks have the best record in the NHL, they are a pedestrian 5-4-4 in the Eastern time zone.
The Sharks swarmed early, taking seven of the game's first nine shots.
Montreal tough guy Georges Laraque then got the upper hand on San Jose enforcer Jody Shelley in a fight, which seemed to spark the Canadiens.
"That was a good feeling on the bench," Canadiens rookie Matt D'Agostini told Hockey Night in Canada. "We love it when Georges goes out there and puts himself on the line, and he does it for the team so we respect that."
Markov put Montreal on top with a power-play blast from the point past Boucher's glove at the 11:05 mark..
Just over two minutes later, D'Agostin skated around defenceman Christian Ehrhoff and behind the San Jose net, and before falling to the ice fed Gorges out front for a 2-0 lead.
"I just came around behind the net and I don't know what happened, I think I lost an edge or something," said D'Agostini. "I knew there'd be traffic out front so I just tried to throw it out there and right around Georgie's stick, and he got one."
Markov threaded the needle with just over two minutes left in the opening period, passing between two Sharks to Koivu, with Boucher not able to move side-to-side fast enough to stop the puck.
Montreal led 3-0 at the first intermission despite being outshot 14-10, but Sharks forward Ryan Clowe told HNIC the mood in the visiting dressing room was not sombre.
"We were trying to stay positive because we did have a lot of chances in the offensive zone and we had a good start to the second, that's what we wanted," said Clowe.
San Jose got on the board after Mike Komisarek took an interference penalty in the first minute of the period. Pavelski picked up a loose puck in traffic and beat Halak with a shot he didn't see.
Marleau was able to set up shop behind the Montreal net and found Thornton driving to the slot and suddenly it was 3-2 with over 18 minutes left in the second.
The Sharks nearly tied it seconds later but Thornton's shot rang off the post. San Jose hit the post again later in the period, with Halak making a key pad save on Rob Blake's power-play volley.
"Obviously Jaroslav gave us a chance to win," said coach Guy Carbonneau. "He looks solid, so I think everybody in front of him looks solid in front of him. "
At the other end, Boucher ensured Montreal didn't pad their lead by stopping Chris Higgins in close.
San Jose took 23 of 29 shots in the game during a span that extended into the third.
Marleau fired a backhand on the doorstep that Halak set aside.
Montreal forward Alexei Kovalev showed flair by spinning around in the San Jose end, with the puck skidding dangerously through the crease before it was cleared away.
Glen Metropolit, the newest Canadien, fed Higgins in the slot for a hard shot that Boucher kept out of the net.
With just over two minutes left in the game, Blake and Marleau had whacks on the doorstep but Halak again couldn't be beaten.
"We're just fast, we're strong, we're big, a lot of teams just don't know how to play us and really can't handle us and I think you saw that for [the final] 40 minutes," said Thornton. "They just had really no clue how to stop us but I think their goalie played well, but we're just big and strong."
Claude Lemieux, 43, suited up for the Sharks, playing over nine minutes. The former Canadien was playing in Montreal for the first time since Dec. 8, 2001 as he continues his improbable comeback after several years away.
San Jose coach Todd McLellan put him on the ice for the opening puck drop.
"It was special for the coach to give me a shot to start on the top line in Montreal, it's something I'll never forget," said Lemieux.
"I hope to get a winning goal in the playoffs to pay him back for that. It was a real honour."
Montreal begins a three-game road swing on Tuesday in Buffalo.
With files from the Canadian Press