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Big night starts with Koivu, ends with playoffs

MONTREAL (AP) -- The Montreal Canadiens welcomed back Saku Koivu

and capped an already-emotional night by clinching a playoff berth.

Saku Koivu got his first taste of action in more than seven months.
Saku Koivu got his first taste of action in more than seven months.

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 sew up their first playoff

appearance in four years.

Koivu, who underwent 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 in the second period as

Andreas Dackell and Craig Rivet scored 0:54 apart early in the

period and Richard Zednik added his 22nd goal at 14:25 to put

Montreal up 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 just moments after he

got his shocking diagnosis last September.

Jani Hurme replaced Lalime in the Senators' goal to begin the

third and Shawn McEachern scored 0:34 into the period to draw

Ottawa to 3-1.

Yanic Perreault brought the crowd to its feet once 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 just 16 seconds later

with his 30th of the season, an unassisted effort at 7:23.

Canadiens goalie Jose Theodore, the NHL's player of the week,

had not allowed more than one goal in any of the first six games of

the winning streak as Montreal clung tenaciously to the eighth and

final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference down the stretch.

"We're really happy," 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 of the night 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 for the game, 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.

Ottawa backup goalie Jani Hurme clapped his trapper and blocker

together as he stood on the ice in front of the Senators' bench.

"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."

The ovation soared once again as Koivu went over to hug goalie

Jose Theodore in front of the Canadiens' net while his teammates

made their way to the bench.

A sustained ovation that lasted nearly five minutes began when

Koivu was introduced as a member of the Canadiens' starting lineup.

The crowd staved off public address announcer Michel Lacroix's

first two attempts to introduce the Canadian national anthem, and

continued cheering once it had begun.

A final ovation came as Koivu took his place at center ice for

the opening faceoff.

Referee Dan Marouelli retreated to the edge of the circle and

clapped his hands as he stood between Dackell and Ottawa left wing

Benoit Brunet.

Koivu was named the game's first star, even though he failed to

get shot on net while playing just 8:22 in 13 shifts.

"I wasn't the best player on the ice, but it felt good," Koivu

said.

Game notes
Lalime stopped 11 of 14 shots. ... Senators captain Daniel

Alfredsson fought with Montreal's Doug Gilmour with 0:22 remaining.

... Koivu had 17 goals and 30 assists in 54 games last season. He

has 85 goals and 270 points in 345 career games.