Canadiens relieved to win one at home, now focusing on Panthers

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MONTREAL - Finally, the Montreal Canadiens thought, a game without getting booed at the Bell Centre.

It had been nearly a month since they beat Boston there, but the Canadiens ended their six-game winless run on home ice with a clear 4-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.

"We didn't approach the games any differently, but it definitely affects you when the home fans are getting on you," said winger Chris Higgins, who assisted on two goals by captain Saku Koivu. "You start squeezing the stick.

"So it's definitely nice to have a good game here and get them behind us."

The Canadiens are now 6-6-4 at home and can get back over .500 with a win Tuesday night against the visiting Florida Panthers - Montreal's last at the Bell Centre before a string of six straight road games.

For Saturday's game, the 21,273 spectators were solidly behind them, except for the somewhat fewer than usual Toronto fans who ignored the threat of a major snowstorm to watch the old rivals play.

"I think we have the best fans in the world and they deserve to see us have success," said coach Guy Carbonneau. "We weren't winning, but we stayed in the pack.

"It's funny. In Philadelphia this week, they were all talking about what a great start they've had to the season - and they were one point behind us."

The Canadiens caught a break in that Toronto looked lifeless after winning 4-0 the night before in Atlanta then flying in at about 2 a.m. on game day.

The talk on the Toronto side was of an incident just before Alex Kovalev made it 4-0 at 8:32 of the third period, when Leafs defenceman Bryan McCabe broke three bones in his left hand after becoming tangled up with Andrei Kostitsyn.

Angry coach Paul Maurice accused Kostitsyn of horse-collaring McCabe and throwing him into the boards, but while replays showed the Belarus winger reached around him, it appeared that McCabe fell awkwardly and jammed his hand on the glass.

Maurice said it showed lack of respect. Carbonneau called it "a hockey play."

Kostitsyn had scored Montreal's third goal earlier in the third frame - his third in four games.

But the player in the best mood after the game was Koivu, who ended a 12-game scoring drought.

During his slump, he was booed at times and there was talk of trades in the media. He now hopes that is all behind him.

He broke the spell by slipping the puck into the crease in the first period and seeing it go in off defenceman Hal Gill's skate. He added another in the second from the doorstep after a nifty feed from Higgins.

"It's funny, I had better chances in the last six or seven games that didn't go in," said Koivu.

The line of Koivu, Higgins and Sergei Kostitsyn looked lively, with the younger Kostitsyn picking up his first NHL point on Koivu's first goal.

"Saku missed a couple of chances and was starting to get down on himself, so it's nice to see him get a couple," Higgins said.

Both are impressed with Kostitsyn, who was in his second NHL game after being called up for a 4-1 win Thursday night in Philadelphia. Sergei Kostitsyn was a late draft pick in 2005 who came into his own playing on a line with phenoms Patrick Kane and Sam Gagner with the London Knights last season.

"He's got a good head on his shoulders and he knows what to do with the puck," said Higgins. "He's still a little hesitant, but that's normal.

"The more confidence he gets, the better he'll be. You see his brother. He's only getting it going now. It's confidence."

Andrei Kostitsyn, the 10th overall pick in 2003, is 22 while Sergei is 20.

"He's got huge potential," added Koivu. "He has a rare vision of the ice and that's what makes him so good."

An oddity: The Canadiens now have six players whose last names begin with "Ko." They are Koivu, the two Kostitsyns, Alex Kovalev, Mike Komisarek and Tom Kostopoulos.



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