With all seven of Canada’s teams in action on “Hockey Day in Canada,” it was one of the newest players north of the border that stole the show in an overtime thriller between the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.
Knotted at one score apiece, the Canadian rivals headed to a 3-on-3 overtime period with Ilya Kovalchuk emerging as the hero in front of the home fans at the Bell Centre.
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It started — as many overtime rushes do — with a save at the other end of the ice, courtesy of Carey Price. Pushing the puck off his blocker to center ice, Nick Suzuki grabbed the rubber disk and headed for the net, all alone. Newly-acquired Toronto goalie Jack Campbell, who is filling in for the injured Frederik Andersen, poked the puck away, but straight to a trailing Kovalchuk who made no doubt about it, sending it to the back of the net and commencing mayhem in Montreal.
Kovalchuk’s tally put him in sole possession of third place on the all-time, regular-season overtime goal list with 17, trailing only Alex Ovechkin (23) and Jaromir Jagr (19).
Pumping his fist, flailing his arms and screaming until his face was as red as his sweater, Kovalchuk was pumped. He brought that energy back to the locker room, as well.
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After being released by the Los Angeles Kings earlier this season, Kovalchuk signed a one-year deal with the Habs and has felt a resurgence since moving to Quebec. In 17 games with the Kings this season, the forward had just three goals and six helpers but in 15 games with a better Habs team, he has 12 points (six goals, six assists).
His name has been tossed around in trade talks, but if Kovalchuk can produce offense and the Canadiens can keep their playoff hopes alive, his $700,000 deal starts to look even more favorable to Montreal the longer their season goes and the more points No. 17 racks up. Currently, the Canadiens (61 points) sit five points behind the Maple Leafs (66) for an Atlantic Division playoff spot and six points out of the second Eastern Conference wild card, currently held by the Philadelphia Flyers (67).
Welcome to the rivalry, Ilya.
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