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Montreal 2, Atlanta 1

12/29/2003

ATLANTA (AP) -- Montreal's players knew high-scoring Atlanta
would turn up its offensive pressure in the final period Monday
night, but the Canadiens also knew they had an answer tending the
goal.

Montreal's Jose Theodore made 13 of his 26 saves in the third
period as the Canadiens held on for a 2-1 win over the Thrashers.

"Jose made huge saves," said Montreal's Sheldon Souray. "He
does it time and time again. He's a rock back there."

Theodore has regained the form that made him the NHL MVP two
seasons ago. His 2.23 goals-against average and .922 save
percentage are better than his career averages.

"This was his night," Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk said of
Theodore.

Kovalchuk, second in the league in goals and points, was helped
off the ice with an injury late in the first period. He returned
shortly thereafter.

Theodore denied two scoring chances by Kovalchuk, one by J.P.
Vigier and one by Shawn McEachern in the final five minutes of the
game.

The Thrashers generated repeated two-on-one opportunities in the
closing minutes despite playing short-handed. Marc Savard drew a
five-minute penalty for attempting to injure when he threw an elbow
at Montreal's Saku Koivu with 6:49 left.

Time after time, Theodore denied the Thrashers.

"The Thrashers got their second wind and took it to us in the
second half of the game, and that's where he did a good job for us
and kept us in it and gave us the win," Montreal coach Claude
Julien said of Theodore. "He was outstanding."

Only Detroit has scored more goals than Atlanta this season, but
the Thrashers have been streaky. Shut out in three straight losses
earlier this month, the Thrashers rebounded to score 14 goals in
three consecutive games before losing 5-2 at Ottawa on Sunday.

On what played out like a short-handed goal, Montreal took a 1-0
lead with 3:39 left in the first period as Kovalchuk was sprawled
face down on the ice.

Andrei Markov scored his third goal of the season from the right
circle. Patrice Brisebois and Koivu were credited with the assists,
but the Thrashers' top concern was with their leading scorer.

Kovalchuk was hit in his left ankle by a puck shot by a
teammate, and he needed help leaving the ice. He returned about
three minutes into the second period and took a roughing penalty.

With only 13 seconds left in the first, Brisebois earned another
assist as Montreal went ahead 2-0 on Pierre Dagenais' fifth goal.
Dagenais scored following a stop by goaltender Byron Dafoe.

The Thrashers cut the deficit to 2-1 at 9:42 of the second
period on a shot by Ronald Petrovicky in front of the crease.

Savard's major penalty hampered the Thrashers' comeback effort
and left Koivu with a possible concussion.

Julien said Koivu "got his bell rung pretty good" and was
dizzy after the play. Koivu's status will be determined Tuesday.

Savard appeared to keep his elbow low, and the crowd of 17,310
booed the ruling.

Atlanta coach Bob Hartley also appeared displeased the officials
gave Savard the five-minute penalty.

"You have to ask them about that," Savard said when asked
about the call. "We're not allowed to comment on officiating."

Added Hartley: "Savard is a big player for us. However, we
still have 19 on the bench, so losing a player will never be an
excuse for not winning a hockey game."

Game notes
The teams will play again on Saturday in Montreal. ... The
Canadiens placed C Benoit Gratton on the injured list because of a
concussion sustained last Saturday at Carolina. ... The Canadiens
placed RW Donald Audette on waivers. He has only three goals and
five assists in 23 games. ... Dafoe fell to 16-7-3 against
Montreal.