It didn't take long for Brian Savage to earn his new two-year, $3.5 million contract.
The Montreal Canadiens' forward, playing his first game of the season after agreeing to a new deal the day before, scored the go-ahead goal late in the third period Wednesday night as the Canadiens beat the Ottawa Senators 3-2 to hand the Senators their first loss of the season.
"To tell you the truth, I really felt nervous before the game, but I took a hit on my first shift and that kind of got me into the game," said Savage, who saw limited ice time in the first two periods before being moved to the first line with Mark Recchi and Saku Koivu in the third.
"I felt really comfortable and didn't really feel like I missed a beat."
Savage, a former Olympian who scored 26 goals in 64 games last season, took a perfect pass from Recchi on a 2-on-1 break early in the third and put the puck into an open net after Senators defenseman Stan Neckar lost possession near center ice.
"I talked to (head coach) Alain (Vigneault) after the second and I told him that I felt pretty fresh, and I found myself on a new line," Savage said. "Mark is so good at making that pass. All I have to do is to be ready."
Added Recchi: "Brian knew it was coming. I must have given him 15 passes like that over the years. He's a guy who doesn't miss in those situations."
Saku Koivu and Vladimir Malakhov also scored for the Canadiens (3-2-1), with Recchi recording two assists to give him nine overall on the season.
Andreas Dackell and Shawn McEachern scored for the Senators (3-1-0), who host the St. Louis Blues at the Corel Centre on Thursday night.
After Savage's goal in the third, a reborn Jocelyn Thibault did the rest. The 23-year-old goaltender, who has often bee the scapegoat for Montreal's recent failures in the playoffs, made several key saves in the third period when the Canadiens were outshot 12-3.
"It was certainly a tough battle out there," Thibault said. "We made a couple of mistakes in our zone and we paid the price."
Thibault was unable to hold a Neckar point shot late in the second, and McEachern tapped the puck into an open net as it trickled between his legs.
McEachern's first goal of the season came less than four minutes after Dackell scored to erase a two-goal deficit. Dackell beat Brett Clark to a loose puck at the side of the net and lifted the puck over Thibault's shoulder.
"I knew one goal would be the game," Thibault said. "So I was really geared up not to let another one in."
Said Vigneault: "Jocelyn was ordinary on those two goals. But he came up big in the third. He made some big saves when he had to."
The Senators, who hadn't lost a regular-season game on the road since last March, outplayed Montreal but left without a point.
"I thought we really outplayed them tonight," Ottawa coach Jacques Martin said. "If it wasn't for Thibault making some big saves in the third, it's our game to win. It's disappointing because we played so well and didn't get anything out of it."
Malakhov, with a power-play goal, gave Montreal a 1-0 lead in the first. Koivu then made it 2-0 in the second after scoring on a fine shorthanded effort. Koivu received a pass from Stephane Quintal inside his own zone, snuck past Wade Redden at the Ottawa blue line and beat goaltender Damian Rhodes with a low shot from the slot.
Koivu had two points after not scoring in his last four.
"I'm a little relieved," said Koivu, who missed training camp while negotiating a new deal. "It's just a matter of me shooting more and being aggressive. I don't think it has anything to do with me missing a part of camp."
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