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Koivu's Return Sparks Canadiens

Hockey: Center resumes playing after battling cancer and Montreal clinches a spot in the playoffs.

April 10, 2002|From Associated Press

MONTREAL — The Montreal Canadiens welcomed back Saku Koivu and capped an already emotional night by clinching a playoff berth.

Seven months after he was diagnosed with abdominal cancer, Koivu--Montreal's captain--resumed his playing career as the Canadiens scored three second-period goals and held on for a 4-3 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night to secure their first playoff appearance in four seasons.

Koivu, who had aggressive chemotherapy treatments to combat the disease, was greeted with a standing ovation that lasted eight minutes from the time he stepped on the ice until the opening faceoff.

"It was overwhelming," Koivu said. "I really appreciated what happened there."

The crowd got plenty more to cheer about early in the second period as Andreas Dackell and Craig Rivet scored 54 seconds apart and Richard Zednik scored his 22nd goal at 14:25 to put Montreal ahead, 3-0.

Rivet bolted directly to the Canadiens' bench to hug Koivu after his slap shot got past Patrick Lalime at 4:52.

"It was a great feeling for me to see him so happy," said Rivet, who visited Koivu in his hospital room moments after he got his shocking diagnosis in September. "It was a great moment for me."

Jani Hurme replaced Lalime in the Senators' goal to begin the third period and Shawn McEachern scored 34 seconds into the period, pulling Ottawa within 3-1.

Yanic Perreault brought the crowd to its feet again at 4:45 when he beat Hurme for his 27th goal to restore the Canadiens' three-goal lead.

"After we had the 4-1 lead, we thought we had it for sure, but they came right back at us," Perreault said.

Ottawa's Chris Neil made it 4-2 with his 10th goal at 7:07 and Marian Hossa cut the Canadiens' lead to one 16 seconds later with his 30th goal, an unassisted effort at 7:23.

Montreal clung tenaciously to the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference down the stretch.

"We're really happy," goalie Jose Theodore said. "We didn't want to wait until the last game to see what's going to happen, so we're happy now that we're in. It's a big relief."

Koivu, who did not record any points in the game, was given his first standing ovation when his arrival on the ice for warmups brought the 8,000 or so fans on hand out of their seats.

Four minutes before the Canadiens took the ice, the crowd chanted "Saku! Saku! Saku!" The cheers grew as the video scoreboard showed the Canadiens preparing to leave their dressing room, and the sound of their applause rose to a crescendo as the last player--Koivu--took the ice.

Even members of the Senators looked on and tapped their sticks on the ice as Koivu took his first few turns around the ice.

"It was emotional for everyone on the ice," said Ottawa forward Benoit Brunet, who began the season with Montreal. "I was happy he played. He looked pretty good, too."

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