Montreal Canadiens' Saku Koivu, left, from Finland, and Patrice Brisebois celebrate after Koivu scored the first goal against the Philadelphia Flyers during the first period. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
MONTREAL - Saku Koivu answered his critics with a goal, an assist and a surprise for the Quebec nationalists who criticized his refusal to speak French.
After delivering taped, pre-game player introductions mostly in French, Koivu was the darling of the 21,273-strong Bell Centre crowd as he led the Montreal Canadiens to a 5-2 NHL victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night.
And they booed Daniel Briere, the Flyers' French-Canadian star who passed up Montreal's six-year offer to take an eight-year deal with the Flyers this summer, every time he touched the puck.
"That was awesome," the Canadiens Finnish captain said of the crowd. "They've shown so many times over the years that they're for us and for me.
"It really felt good. We talked about (the French message) even before this whole controversy. We did it about a week or 10 days ago. I guess it was a good time to put it out there."
Summer free agent signing Tom Kostopoulos, with his first goal as a Canadien, Alex Kovalev, Guillaume Latendresse and Chris Higgins also scored for 7-2-3 Montreal, which posted its fifth win in six games.
The Canadiens outshot the Flyers 41-19 and matched one of the East's most physical teams hit for hit.
Mike Richards got his seventh of the season and Scottie Upshall had a late power-play goal for injury-struck Philadelphia (7-4-0), which has lost three of its last four.
The Canadiens were coming off a weak effort in a shootout loss to Atlanta on home ice on Tuesday. Then they watched as Koivu was assailed by news reporters Wednesday after nationalist lawyer Guy Bertrand blasted him before a government commission for his failure to speak French despite playing 12 years in Montreal.
As he fended off the questions, Koivu never let out that he had taped the player introductions in French, beginning with "ici Saku Koivu, voici mon equipe (Saku Koivu here, this is my team)."
"It was important to play well after our performance on Tuesday night but also, I think guys were ready after the whole controversial thing (Wednesday)," added Koivu.
"It showed. We were focused. We wanted to win."
If the booing bothered Briere, a native of Gatineau, Que., near Ottawa, he didn't show it.
"It wasn't fun because we were losing and the crowd was building off of that," he said. "But it was a great atmosphere."
Koivu came off the bench on a delayed penalty to pick up a Roman Hamrlik pass and beat Martin Biron with a wrist shot inside the near post at 8:53.
The Flyers struck back on a power play, as Briere left a drop pass for Richards, whose shot went in off defenceman Andrei Markov's skate at 16:50.
Briere was off for a phantom trip on Mike Komisarek when Kovalev put Montreal ahead 7:28 into the second, firing a shot under the bar from the right circle on a power play.
Kostopoulos tipped the puck past Richards at the point and finished a give-and-go with Markov to score short-handed at 11:38.
"It was very nice to get one, especially in this building," said Kostopoulos, who also survived a third-period fight with big Ben Eager. "We were talking about jumping up on the penalty kill and Markov and (Kyle) Chipchura jumped in and made that whole play."
When the Philadelphia power play ended, Hamrlik came out of the penalty box and was sent in alone only to be tripped by Jason Smith. His first career penalty shot was backhanded weakly off a post.
Koivu slipped a perfect pass for a tip-in by Latendresse 8:21 into the third period.
A skirmish developed after Richards knocked Kovalev down with a shoulder hit - called an elbow - to the jaw that left the Flyers two-men short when Higgins scored at 16:42.
"Maybe that's why they have three players suspended," Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said. "If that continues, they'll probably have more."
Carbonneau wasn't happy with the hit - which left Kovalev dazed but able to continue playing - mainly because it was directed at the head and came with less than five minutes to play in a game Montreal led 4-1 at the time.
But earlier in the game, Latendresse wasn't called when his stick clipped Smith in the face, drawing blood, on the follow-through of a shot.
The Flyers, who hit three goalposts behind Cristobal Huet, played the fourth game of an eight-game road trip that takes them to Washington on Friday night.
Notes - The Canadiens added busts of former general managers Tommy Gorman (1940-46), Frank Selke Sr. (1946-64) and Sam Pollock (1964-78) to Builders' Row at the Bell Centre. Members of the three men's families marked the occasion in a pre-game ceremony. . . Flyers defenceman Randy Jones served the first of a two-game suspension for his hit Saturday on Boston's Patrice Bergeron. . . Scottie Upshall returned from injury, although wearing a soft cast on his left wrist. . . Derian Hatcher (knee) and Simon Gagne (dizziness) were out for Phildelphia while Mikhail Grabovsky was a healthy scratch and Francis Bouillon (shoulder) and Garth Murray (ankle) missed for Montreal.
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