MONTREAL - After a fairly quiet regular season, digger Tom Kostopoulos is making noise in the playoffs for the Montreal Canadiens.
The checking winger scored 48 seconds into overtime to give the Canadiens a comeback 4-3 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in the opening game of their NHL playoff series on Thursday night. Montreal leads the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal 1-0 with Game 2 set for Saturday night at the Bell Centre.
"It's exciting," said Kostopoulos, the surprise source of three post-season goals thus far. "It's unbelievable how we came back twice to tie it up."
Alex Kovalev scored his second goal of the game with 29 seconds left in regulation - on a power play and with goalie Carey Price pulled for an extra attacker - to tie the score 3-3 and force overtime.
In the extra period, defenceman Andrei Markov kept the puck in at the blue-line and put a low shot on goal. Kostopoulos beat Martin Biron on his second whack at the puck from the edge of the crease.
"Hard work by my linemates created the turnover and Markov made a good play to get the puck on net," added Kostopoulos, who is in the playoffs for the first time in his six-year NHL career. "Biron made a good save on the first shot and I was lucky to get the rebound."
R.J. Umberger and Jim Dowd scored in the first period for the Flyers, while Andrei Kostitsyn and Kovalev tied it up with goals in the second for Montreal.
The Flyers weren't happy with a kneeing penalty called on centre Mike Richards for bringing down Kovalev with 1:09 left to play, which gave Montreal the chance to tie the game.
And they weren't thrilled to see a video review go against them when Kovalev batted a puck out of the air to score in the second period, although replays appeared to show his stick blade was just below the crossbar, or at least close enough to make it difficult to overturn the officials' call of a goal.
"It's one game," said Flyers coach John Stevens. "They won and it doesn't matter how it happened.
"I think we can be better, we will be better, and we'll bounce back."
Neither team had a lot of jump with both coming off seven-game wins in the opening round.
Montreal finished its series with a 5-0 win over Boston on Monday, while the Flyers finished off Washington 3-2 in overtime on Tuesday night. Philadelphia was playing its third game in four days.
"I'm very proud of the effort tonight," said Stevens. "It was our third game in four nights and its important for us to get some rest.
"I'm not making excuses, but I was really happy with the way we responded. From Marty (Biron) on out, it was a gutsy effort."
Montreal captain Saku Koivu, who won 17 of 24 draws to continue his mastery of faceoffs circle in the three games he has played since returning from a fractured foot, said there was less energy from both clubs than was seen in the opening round.
"It was tough to get fired up," said Koivu. "Neither team played bad, but we didn't have the same jump.
"At lot of times in games like that it comes down to bounces and we got that bounce at the end."
Montreal won all four meetings between the teams in the regular season and has now beaten the Flyers seven straight times dating back to last season.
The Canadiens came out strong and saw Koivu and Patrice Brisebois hit goal posts in the opening 11 minutes.
Brisebois was the goat on the first goal, as he reached out and inadvertantly tipped Umberger's pass intended for Patrick Thorsen into his own net 13:15 into the game.
"It wasn't a bad play, it was bad luck," said Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau.
Philadelphia's checking line got a hard-earned goal as Dowd was left alone in front to blast Steve Downie's feed past Carey Price at 16:49.
Derian Hatcher hauled Andrei Kostitsyn down on a breakaway and the 22-year-old from Belarus was awarded a penalty shot 6:32 into the second frame. But he was thwarted as Biron made a pad save.
Three minutes later, Kostitsyn got a puck in the slot from his younger brother Sergei and fired in his fourth of the playoffs.
Then came Kovalev's disputed goal at 16:03, which came after Tomas Plekanec's shot went high in the air off Biron's body.
Mike Komisarek was sent off twice in a row for ill-advised penalties and Lupul put Philadelphia ahead on the power play 19 seconds into the third period. Braydon Coburn's shot went off Price's glove and trickled in off Lupul's leg.
That set up the last-minute drama, as Koivu won the draw from Jeff Carter, who broke his stick taking the faceoff and was unable to react as Kovalev took a step toward the middle and fooled Biron with a snap shot to tie it.
The roar from the 21,273 in the seats was deafening as the Canadiens celebrated on the ice.
Carbonneau had high praise for Kostopoulos, a free agent singing last summer, and his linemates.
"Some players don't get a lot of attention," said Carbonneau. "They work in the shadows a bit, but they do a good job in a lot of things.
"They kill penalties, block shots. But that's one goal I think he'll remember."