Koivu completes Habs' comeback
Controversial tying marker by Higgins set up the winner
Young teams can often be overcome with bouts of immaturity, and that's what killed the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday afternoon.
Holding a one-goal lead over the host Montreal Canadiens with two minutes to go, the Kings gave up two quick ones to lose 4-3 in a game they had in the palms of their royal hands.
Saku Koivu was eventually given credit for the winner as the Habs broke off a four-game losing string and improved to 28-15-6.
"It can turn around in one game, just like that," said Montreal forward Chris Higgins, who scored for the first time in nine games dating back to Nov. 26.
"When you lose four in a row you feel like you're never going to win again, especially with the pressure in this city. It's all forgotten now."
Los Angeles had a three-game winning streak ended and fell to 20-21-7.
Higgins tied the score at 18:07 of the third, a bad crosschecking penalty by Kyle Calder (his second straight in the late going) put Montreal on the power play.
Andrei Markov fired the puck into a scrum in front of goalie Jon Quick that bounced a few times before Koivu whacked at it and the disk rolled through the keeper's pads.
The goalie lay back to smother the rubber but it slithered across the line for the Habs' victory.
Markov was originally credited with the goal but that was changed by the NHL after the game.
"It would have been very tough to get back up from a loss like this," Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said.
"The good news is we didn't give up, we worked for 60 minutes. We know we have certain obstacles we'll have to tackle to get back on the right track, and this game was one of them."
Kings coach Terry Murray and his players were incensed at the end of the game, especially about Higgins's tying goal, set up by a nice dump into the neutral zone by Tom Kostopoulos.
That left Higgins one-on-one with 19-year-old defender Drew Doughty, who tried to force the Montreal forward to the left.
Higgins got a hand on Doughty and yanked him to the ice, then put the puck up over Quick, who was trying to poke-check.
"I managed to get through him," said Higgins, with a straight face, to Hockey Night In Canada. "I saw the goalie was coming out with a poke check and I got it up and over."
"It's one of the nicer goals I've scored, especially recently because they haven't come too easily for me this year. But it's more of a team relief than a personal relief."
Murray thought Higgins should have received penalty for dragging Doughty to the ice.
"It was a wrestling move," he said.
Also up and over were the Kings' tempers at what they felt was an obvious non-call, and that may have led to Calder's poor judgment as the puck bounced around the L.A. net with 30 seconds to go.
Bad, bad elbow
The young Kings had already lost their heads for a couple of minutes early in the second, resulting in a Montreal goal.
First, Raitis Ivanans took a goaltender interference penalty that put the Habs on the power play.
While killing it off, defenceman Denis Gauthier (a Montreal-born lad apparently trying to impress his friends) left his feet and hammered Josh Gorges with an elbow that knocked the Canadiens' defender temporarily silly.
That dumb move resulted in a five-minute major and a game misconduct that gave Montreal a two-man advantage.
"Obviously it was filthy and the guy has a history of it so let's hope the league does something about it," Higgins said. "You saw his face after the hit and he wasn't on Earth, he was someplace else."
Koivu won the subsequent faceoff, cleanly sending it right into the slot on a set play that ended with Andrei Kostitsyn blasting a one-timer past Quick for a 2-1 lead.
Montreal squandered the rest of the man advantage by taking a penalty.
Price makes two errors
A scramble around Carey Price's net after a giveaway by Patrice Brisebois saw the goaltender go down too early facing up to shooter Jarret Stoll. The L.A. centre instead passed the puck over to Dustin Brown, who wristed in the tying goal to make it 2-2.
Then Price made another poor choice, firing the puck from behind the net over to Gorges in the corner, not realizing he was setting his defender up for another big hit — this one a clean whack by an onrushing forward.
Calder picked up the puck, headed towards Price and passed off to Stoll who scored to make it 3-2 for Los Angeles before the second-period intermission.
Kings on the board first
Los Angeles scored twice in the first.
Gauthier fired a high one from the point that Derek Armstrong tipped out of the air and past Price at 3:22.
After a video of the play was handed over to the league office in Toronto for review, Armstrong was judged to have had his stick over shoulder height and it was waived off.
Undaunted, the Kings came back on a power play just before the five-minute mark, and this one stood.
Alexander Frolov stole the puck behind the Habs' net, went to his right and came out beside Price. Instead of shooting, the winger passed the puck across the blue ice to Michael Handzus, who was untouched.
He hit the open net and it was 1-0.
Tomas Plekanec tied it on a mistake by goalie Quick, who was too slow diving out to grab a rebound off a shot from the point.
Trying to smother the disk with his glove, the rubber instead squirted out to the right where Plekanec simply picked it up and buried it for 1-1 at 11:41.
That was the centre's 10th of the season.
With files from the Canadian Press