Kovalev had his first two-goal game of the season and rookie goalie Jaroslav Halak made 27 saves Saturday as the Montreal Canadiens extended their winning streak to four games with a 4-1 victory over the Washington Capitals.
"This is a fun time, I always say that," said Kovalev, whose last two-goal game dates back to Game 1 of the Canadiens first-round playoff loss to Carolina last year. "When we're close to making the playoffs, or to winning the first game of the playoffs, it's always a fun time. Somehow, I just like those times."
Tomas Plekanec and Michael Ryder also scored for the Canadiens (39-31-6), who won their season-high sixth straight at home in front of a sellout crowd of 21,273 at the Bell Centre.
Chris Clark scored his 29th of the season for the Capitals (26-37-13), who lost their third straight to close out a three-game road trip.
Despite winning six of their last seven games, the Canadiens still haven't made much headway in the tight Eastern Conference playoff race that has the sixth through 11th place teams separated by only four points.
"The fortunate thing is that we've been winning lately," Canadiens captain Saku Koivu said. "Things are interesting and exciting right now for a lot of teams. Every time I turn the TV on in the morning or read the paper, you're hoping the other teams are losing. But that hasn't been the case so far."
The New York Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs were all winners on Saturday, leaving Montreal tied with Carolina for eighth, one point back of the seventh-place Rangers.
The Canadiens have a one-point lead over the Islanders and a two-point lead over Toronto. With Tampa Bay's loss to Ottawa, however, the Canadiens closed to within two points of sixth place in the conference.
"We shouldn't focus on what other teams do," Kovalev said. "We should focus on our games and look at the standings after."
Halak won his fourth straight game since being re-inserted as the starter in a 3-2 shootout win over the Maple Leafs on March 17. He's allowed only six goals on 132 shots for a .955 save percentage over that span.
Halak credited his teammates for limiting the chances of Washington's Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin. Ovechkin matched his season-low with two shots on goal, while Semin had an assist but wasn't much of a factor in the game.
"It's crazy to have won four straight," Halak said. "But the guys did a really good job. When Semin and Ovechkin were on (the ice) they couldn't do anything because of our (defence). Hopefully we can play like this in our next game."
That next game is a home date Tuesday with the Rangers, who will face the Islanders on the road Sunday afternoon.
Olaf Kolzig made 36 stops for the Capitals and was the main reason the score was so close.
Andrei Kostitsyn's assist on the Plekanec goal extended the rookie's point streak to four games and gave him one goal and six assists in his last six games.
The Capitals jumped out to a 1-0 lead on the power play at 5:53 of the first when Clark tipped a Semin wrist shot from the high slot into the top corner. But the Canadiens took over from there, peppering Kolzig with 34 shots through the first two periods.
"The first 10 minutes of the game scared me because they scored first," Habs coach Guy Carbonneau said. "But we took over the game after that and I was able to relax a bit."
Kovalev tied it at 8:59 of the first on quick wraparound, and then put Montreal up 2-1 with a power-play goal at 9:36 of the second when he went to the net and tapped in a Saku Koivu rebound for his 16th goal of the season.
Plekanec made it 3-1 at 15:04 of the second with a top corner wrist shot for his 19th of the season. Ryder scored his team-leading 25th of the season at 14:50 of the third, keeping it on a 2-on-1 break and beating Kolzig with a wrist shot upstairs.
Notes: Canadiens D Janne Niinimaa was a healthy scratch Saturday after playing in the previous five straight games, his longest stretch since November. Niinimaa played sparingly in the third period of Thursday's come from behind 6-3 win over the Bruins in Boston, and finally lost his spot to Josh Gorges on Saturday. Winger Sergei Samsonov was also a healthy scratch for a seventh straight game. . . . Canadiens D Sheldon Souray played his 500th career game. His assist on Kovalev's second goal gave him 60 points, making him the first Canadiens defenceman since Chris Chelios in 1989 to reach that plateau.