Koivu rescues Canadiens in OT

Saku Koivu scored 1:45 into overtime as the Montreal Canadiens beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 on Thursday night.

Montreal Canadiens captain Saku Koivu was the proverbial calm in the storm Thursday night, soothing jittery teammates with the overtime winner in a game they dominated and nearly let slip away.

Koivu banked in a backhand shot 1:45 into the extra period as the Canadiens prevailed 3-2 over the Tampa Bay Lightning in front of 21,273 nervous fans at the Bell Centre.

Montreal led 2-0 with 9½ minutes remaining in regulation, but Tampa Bay scored twice in a 4:17 span to force overtime. 

"That was a tough one," Koivu said. "But I felt with the way we played and the chances we were getting, we would get a goal.

"It is just a big [second] point for us and, at this point, you have to have the emotions to get it done and when it happens — when a team wins in overtime — it is pretty big."

Koivu's initial shot was stopped by Lightning rookie Karri Ramo during a frenzied scramble, but the Finnish forward retrieved the puck near the left post and flicked it in off one of the several skaters in the crease for his 15th goal of the season.

"When I got the rebound, I knew that the goalie was down and that he couldn't recover and I was hoping to hit something to go in," Koivu said. "Lucky enough, it went in."

Alex Kovalev and Guillaume Latendresse scored in regulation for the Canadiens (38-27-9), who outplayed the Lightning by a wide margin and outshot them 36-19.

Carey Price, who faced just two shots in the first period, finished with 17 saves.

'We were reliable and consistent'

Andrei Markov had two assists as Montreal retained its hold on the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference by two points over the ninth-place Florida Panthers, 4-2 winners at Philadelphia.

"I like the way we played," Canadiens general manager and head coach Bob Gainey said. "We need the points.

"This is important. But the most important thing is we were reliable and consistent throughout the game."

Rookie David Koci and Lukas Krajicek scored in a losing cause for the Lightining (24-33-17).

Kovalev opened the scoring 11:09 into the contest with a power-play goal as he swept Alex Tanguay's long diagonal pass between Ramo's pads for his 20th goal.  

Montreal held an 11-2 edge in shots in the first period and 24-8 through two, but it remained 1-0 until Latendresse scored his 12th on a wraparound less than six minutes into the third.

But the Lightning struck back as Koci shovelled in his first NHL goal midway through the third, and Krajicek knotted it four minutes later on a bouncing shot from the blue-line that eluded Canadiens netminder Carey Price.

"I didn't like the way we lost the 2-0 lead," Koivu said. "I think there was some miscommunication on their second goal.

"We would like to have won 2-0 and got the confidence from that. But we will take it."

With files from the Canadian Press