If this was the last time Saku Koivu laced up his skates in Montreal, it was exactly the way he imagined it.
The former Canadiens captain, who played 13 years with the club before signing with Anaheim in 2009, received a standing ovation from the Bell Centre crowd after Montreal’s 4-1 victory over the Ducks on Thursday night.
“It was emotional,” said Koivu. “I had the whole building behind me. It was nice. A big thank you for that. I felt great before the game. And obviously at the end, that was amazing.”
Koivu hasn’t announced his retirement, but there’s speculation the 38-year-old will call it quits at the end of the season. If that’s the case, Koivu won’t ever skate again in the city he captained for a decade.
“It’s overwhelming to be there, to get that reaction from the fans. It just shows how passionate they are, and shows their appreciation.
“You don’t know how to react. You want to keep the focus on the game. And moments like that, it’s not easy. The emotions get the most out of you.”
This wasn’t Koivu’s first return to Montreal since he left the city that drafted him in the first round in 1993. In January 2011, he beat his old team 4-3. Tonight, his new team couldn’t find the win against an inspired Canadiens team.
Montreal was up 2-0 at the end of the first period on goals by Michael Bournival and Tomas Plekanec. The Ducks came out firing in the second but couldn’t beat Carey Price, who made 31 saves on the night.
“We didn’t let up,” said captain Brian Gionta. “We knew they were going to have a push. We absorbed it and kept the momentum.
“Big part is to continue to play our game and not open up. When the other team presses, you have to make sure you stick with your game plan.”
Gionta and Rene Bourque later scored for the Habs. Patrick Maroon scored a consolation goal for Anaheim.
After relentless pressure by the Canadiens to start the game, Bournival scored his second of the year to put the Habs ahead 1-0 at 11:39 of the first period.
Bournival tipped a blue-line shot from Nathan Beaulieu past Anaheim netminder Jonas Hiller. The assist was Beaulieu’s first point in his fourth game this season.
Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien had nothing but praise for Bournival.
“The more he plays, the more confidence we have in his play,” said Therrien. “He’s creating good plays with his intensity and his speed. He skates really well. He competes.
“It’s fun to see a young player, as the season goes on, even if it’s early in the season, who’s making good decision and playing with a lot of confidence.”
Plekanec added to the Canadiens’ lead five minutes later. Bournival intercepted a missed clearance from Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf in the Anaheim zone and unselfishly dished the puck over to a wide-open Plekanec, who scored his fifth of the year.
“When you respect the system, good things happen,” said Bournival of the team’s second goal. “I was well-positioned in my forechecking. We’ll definitely take a goal like that.”
Two quick penalties to Mathieu Perreault and Cam Fowler midway through the second period proved costly for Anaheim. Gionta struck mere seconds into the 5-on-3, tapping in the easy rebound after a Plekanec shot from behind the net rolled off Hiller’s arm.
Maroon spoiled Price’s shutout bid at 8:58 of the third, firing a wrist shot off the post and in past a sprawling Price to make it 3-1.
Bourque added Montreal’s fourth of the night at 12:39. Fresh out of the penalty box, Bourque darted towards the net, took a pass from Plekanec and fired a backhanded shot past Hiller.
Hiller made 21 saves on the night.
Teemu Selanne, another NHL veteran, also played what could be his last game in Montreal tonight. The 43-year-old — the oldest active player in the NHL — is retiring at the end of the season and was kept off the score sheet.
Notes: The Canadiens were still without Max Pacioretty, Brandon Prust and Daniel Briere on the night. All three forwards sustained injuries last week. ... Montreal welcomes the San Jose Sharks on Saturday. ... The Ducks are on a two-week, eight-game road trip that began with a 4-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday.