VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) - There have been few bright spots this season for the Montreal Canadiens, but the return of veteran defenseman Andrei Markov certainly qualifies as a highlight.
That it came in a 4-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night made it that much better.
``It was awesome,' said Markov, the 33-year-old Russian, who fought back from two operations on his right knee that cost him 133 games over two seasons. ``We just beat one of the strongest teams in the league.'
Markov played more than 17 minutes, and his pass to P.K. Subban set up a power-play goal that gave Montreal a 3-1 lead.
``I felt good,' said Markov, who injured his knee on Nov. 13, 2010. ``The first few shifts I had to adjust to the speed, but after that I felt good. My job is just to play the game. I don't know how many minutes I'm going to play next game. I'm just happy to be there.'
There were few in the Canadiens' dressing room happier to see Markov back than goalie Carey Price, who kept his team in the game when it was outshot 15-5 in the scoreless first period.
``He's a first-class player and he moves the puck so well,' Price said. ``When we're breaking the puck out, he just has the confidence with it, and it makes a big difference. He's a big boost for us and he's pretty irreplaceable.'
Erik Cole scored twice in the third period, along with Subban, and Montreal fired four unanswered goals after Ryan Kesler gave Vancouver a 1-0 lead midway through the game.
Blake Geoffrion, obtained in a trade from Nashville, scored his first goal of the season to tie the game after defenseman Alex Edler lost a puck battle to Louis Leblanc along the side boards.
It was only the third win in 10 games for Montreal (27-32-10), the last place team in the Eastern Conference.
The Canucks (42-19-8) have lost three of the first five games of their seven-game homestand. They trail Western Conference-leading St. Louis Blues by three points.
Cole gave Montreal a 2-1 lead with a soft backhanded shot that eluded goalie Roberto Luongo 13 seconds into the third period. He made it 4-1 with 8:58 left, knocking in his own rebound for his 25th goal of the season and third in four games.
The last time the Canadiens strung wins together was a four-game streak that ended Feb. 11 with a 5-0 victory at Toronto.
Subban made it 3-1 with one second remaining in a two-man Montreal advantage, firing a slap shot past Luongo from the top of the circle. Edler and Chris Higgins had been penalized for delay of game.
``We didn't go after them the way we should have,' Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. ``In the third, obviously Louie gives up a bad goal, and we didn't respond well at all. We should have responded the right way, threw two pucks in the stands and they made us pay for it.'
The teams were tied 1-1 entering the third period, and Vigneault split up twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin after Cole scored.
Kesler, foiled twice in the second period by Price, opened the scoring at 11:58 of the frame with his second goal in two games. His hard wrist shot inside the far post finished off a slick three-way passing play with linemates David Booth and Higgins.
Geoffrion, obtained in a trade from Nashville, tied it with 1:17 left in the period when he went to the net to tip Louis Leblanc's pass under Luongo's leg. It was Geoffrion's first NHL goal in nearly a year. He also scored a game-winner in Vancouver last season for the Predators.
The Canadiens were outshot 15-5 in the first period, despite missing David Desharnais, Travis Moen, Brian Gionta and Mathieu Darche.
A moment of silence was held before the game in memory of Nik Zoricic, the Toronto ski cross racer who died Saturday in a World Cup event in Switzerland.
NOTES: Desharnais, who sustained an undisclosed upper body injury Thursday in a 5-3 win over Edmonton was replaced in the lineup by Leblanc, Montreal's first-round pick in the 2009 draft. ... Vancouver beat the Canadiens 4-3 in a shootout on Dec. 8 in Montreal after the Canadiens squandered a 3-0 lead. ... Max Pacioretty is the first American-born player to score 30 goals for Montreal.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved