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PHILADELPHIA — There was no shortage of heroes in the Canadiens’ 4-1 victory over the Flyers Thursday night.
Ilya Kovalchuk did what he does best, scoring two goals.
The team’s leading scorer, Tomas Tatar, had a three-point night with a goal and two assists.
And Carey Price continued his run of outstanding performances, making 40 saves.
But when it came time for the players to select the player of the game, the honour went to 19-year-old Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who spent most of the third period sitting in the penalty box after dropping his gloves and traded punches with Robert Hagg.
“That meant a lot to us and that’s why he was the player of the game,” Kovalchuk said.
“I don’t know where that came from,” said Kotkaniemi, who was upset because Hagg hit Ryan Poehling from behind. It was not only Kotkaniemi’s first NHL fight, it was his first fight ever.
“When guys step up and do those things, I think the whole team appreciated it,” coach Claude Julien said. “When you look at how it happened, I don’t know how he winds up with an instigator and an extra 10 (for a misconduct). Both guys looked at each other and dropped the gloves. The poor guy had to sit in the penalty box for 17 minutes.”
Julien was asked if he was surprised the novice pugilist got the better of Hagg.
“I think everybody was surprised,” he replied. “We didn’t see that coming. Maybe hie missed his calling.”
The Canadiens took the lead early in the second period when Kovalchuk scored a power-play goal and Artturi Lehkonen scored 11 seconds later. But Julien said there were two earlier incidents that set up the go-ahead opportunity.
The first came late in the first period when the Flyers opened the scoring, but Tatar tied the game 18 seconds later.
“We needed a bounce-back from a tough loss last night,” Julien said. “There was no doubt those two goals really helped us They sort of calmed things down. But also that first goal we scored after they took the lead. I think the quick response was as important as the next two goals.”
“Giving up that goal made a difference,” agreed Flyers coach Alain Vigneault. “If we go into the second period up 1-0, it might have been different.”
The other key play was a stop Price made on a short-handed breakaway by Scott Laughton seconds before Kovalchuk scored his power-play goal.
“(Carey) was really good tonight that’s the Carey we know,” Julien said. “He made things look easy, but yet they were some tough saves he had to make. When he’s at the top of his game, he makes those things look easy. That breakaway, Laughton is pretty good, even in shootouts, and to handle it the way he did, good job.”
Kovalchuk now has seven points — three goals and four assists — in the seven games he has played with the Canadiens.
“Finally, we start scoring on the power play,” Kovalchuk said. “We’re shooting the puck and it went in. Phil (Danault) made a great play to get the puck to me, but we have to put the same effort in when we play at the Bell Centre. I don’t know what happens when we play at home, but we’re not the same team. We have one game before the break (Saturday against the Vegas Golden Knights) and we have to be ready for that.”
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