Montreal Canadiens goalie Cristobal Huet, of France, stands in his crease as New York Rangers celebrate Scott Gomez\' tying goal during second period NHL hockey action in Montreal on Sunday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ian Barrett
MONTREAL - Coming back from three goals down on the road against one of the hottest teams in the league may have marked the arrival of the New York Rangers team that so many expected to compete for the Eastern Conference's top seed this season.
Chris Drury scored the winning goal midway through the third period and added an assist as the Rangers erased a three-goal deficit Sunday to beat the Montreal Canadiens 5-3.
"This was a huge character win," Rangers coach Tom Renney said. "We have to make sure we use this is as a reference point, and it's our job to make sure this is a turning point in our season."
Michal Rozsival, Brandon Dubinsky, Scott Gomez and Martin Straka also scored for the Rangers (27-22-6), winners of three straight and five of their last six.
Andrei Markov, Alex Kovalev and Sergei Kostitsyn scored for the Canadiens (28-16-9), who lost in regulation for only the fourth time in 20 games.
"It's been going so well of late, we can't win them all," said Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau. "We just need to take a lesson from this."
Rangers winger Ryan Hollweg was given a game misconduct at 15:41 of the second period when he hit Kostitsyn from behind a few minutes after he had his bell rung on an unpenalized hit from Kovalev.
The hit was one of many in the high-spirited, physical battle between two of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference.
"I think it fired us up," Drury said of the Hollweg hit.
In the Canadiens room, players were calling for a suspension. Carbonneau didn't go that far on this specific hit, saying he hadn't seen the replay, but in a more general sense he wants the league to start cracking down on hits from behind.
"He was hit earlier, so it was clearly pre-meditated," said Carbonneau. "Unless you see severe suspensions, you're going to see hits like that every game. These guys are paid to hit."
The Rangers jumped past Boston into seventh place in the conference standings, while Montreal remains the fourth seed. The Canadiens are three points back of the conference-leading Ottawa Senators, with a showdown looming at the Bell Centre on Tuesday.
Cristobal Huet made 25 saves in his 12th straight start for the Canadiens, and it was the second time in his last three starts that he has allowed five goals.
Lundqvist also made 25 stops to earn his 24th win of the season, but none were bigger than a pad save on a Tomas Plekanec shorthanded breakaway early in the third period to keep the game tied.
"I think we're a really good third period team," said Lundqvist. "We've won a lot of games lately in the third."
With Montreal ahead 3-0 midway through the second, the Rangers charged back with three goals to tie it before the end of the period.
New York cut the deficit to one with two goals in 24 seconds. Rozsival scored his 13th of the year on a slap shot from the point at 8:39 with Canadiens captain Saku Koivu in the penalty box. On the next shift, Kovalev turned the puck over in the Canadiens end to Dubinsky, who one-timed it top corner for his ninth of the season at 9:03.
New York tied it 3-3 at 15:30 of the second when Gomez tucked a rebound in an open side for his 12th of the year.
Drury put New York on top at 10:09 of the third when he tapped in a perfect pass from Nigel Dawes for his 16th goal of the year.
"When we're stationary and just watching the game we'll get down 3-0," Drury said. "But when we're moving our feet and we're into it, we're a pretty good team."
Straka iced it when he tipped home a Paul Mara point shot for his 10th of the season at 18:30.
The Canadiens jumped out to a 2-0 lead with a pair of power play goals in the first period. Markov scored his 12th of the season at 3:11 when he held the blue-line on a clearing attempt and put a weak wrist shot through Lundqvist's legs.
Kovalev followed with his 24th of the year - 14th on the power play - when he one-timed a Chris Higgins feed at 13:36 of the first.
Kostitsyn made it 3-0 Montreal at 5:40 when he was awarded a penalty shot after being hooked by Sean Avery on a breakaway and beat Lundqvist with a wrist shot high on the glove side for his sixth of the season.
Notes: Canadiens D Patrice Brisebois and RW Michael Ryder were healthy scratches, allowing wingers Steve Begin and Tom Kostopoulos to get back in the lineup after sitting out Saturday's 4-1 win over the Islanders. It was the first time Ryder was a healthy scratch since sitting out three straight games from Dec. 20 to Dec. 23. He had five goals and three assists in 16 games since then ... Sergei Kostitsyn took his spot at right wing on Saku Koivu's line ... Rangers winger Brendan Shanahan, suffering from a variety of ailments to his knee, hip, groin and hamstring, sat out the game. It was the third game he's missed since injuring his knee Jan. 5 against Edmonton ... He has two goals and no assists in 10 games since the injury ... Rangers D Marek Malik (knee) and winger Marcel Hossa (back) also missed the game.