The Long Island native scored two goals to help the Canadiens beat the New York Islanders 5-3 on Tuesday night in the first game for both teams since the Olympic break.
“I’m really, really happy that I’m able to play in front of my family and friends,” Higgins said. “They were all here tonight—about 50 to 60 of them.”
The 22-year-old former Yale star has nine goals in his first full season with the Canadiens. He scored his first NHL goal Oct. 6 at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers, and earned first-star honors in his first NHL game at Nassau Coliseum.
“I get pretty nervous before all the games, but especially here and at the Garden,” said Higgins, selected 14th overall in the 2002 draft.
Higgins, from Smithtown, gave Montreal a 3-0 lead with 42 seconds left in the second period, firing a wrist shot past goalie Garth Snow on a rush down the left wing. Higgins added a short-handed goal at 8:34 of the third to make it 5-1, beating U.S. Olympian Rick DiPietro with a high wrist shot.
“He’s a good kid,” said DiPietro, who replaced Snow at the start of the third period. “It was fun to skate with him over the summer. I think he’s going to have a lot of success in this league. I wish him all the best—except against us.”
Cristobal Huet, making his seventh straight start in goal for the Canadiens with Jose Theodore sidelined by a broken right heel, made 32 saves for the victory as Montreal started a six-game, 10-day trip.
Craig Rivet, rookie Alexander Perezhogin and Michael Ryder had power-play goals for Montreal, eighth in the Eastern Conference with 62 points. The Canadiens have earned 10 out of a possible 12 points in their last six games, going 4-0-2.
“We wanted to come out skating. We did, but didn’t get rewarded for it,” New York interim coach Brad Shaw said. “We generated a lot of chances, but just didn’t put them in the net.”
Canadiens defenseman Mike Komisarek, another Long Island native, had more than 100 family members and friends at the game. He grew up in Islip Terrace.
“Obviously, it’s a big thrill for us to play in front of our families and friends,” Komisarek said. “I’m really happy for Chris. He hasn’t played like a rookie for us. He’s got a good all-around game and comes to play every night.”
Higgins is playing left wing alongside center Saku Koivu on Montreal’s top line.
“I think everybody who plays with him appreciates his work ethic and the way he’s maintained that in his first season,” Koivu said. “That’s not easy to do.”
Higgins returned the compliment.
“Saku makes you better,” Higgins said. “He’s a great player and gets you the puck in the right places. He’s a great leader, too.”
Koivu, coming off Finland’s loss to Sweden in the gold-medal game Sunday in Turin, had three assists for the Canadiens.
“I felt OK,” Koivu said. “I knew it was going to be a little tough, but once the game got going, I was able to get in the right spots.”
Snow, making his second start in three games since returning from injuries to both knees, made only 10 saves in the first two periods, while Huet stopped all 27 shots he faced in the opening 40 minutes.
“Our guys came out and played well,” Snow said. “We totally outshot and outchanced them in the first two periods, but didn’t have a lead to show for it.”
Ryder beat DiPietro on a two-man advantage at 6:11 of the third, the Montreal right wing’s team-leading 24th goal of the season. … The Canadiens are 8-6-2 since general manager Bob Gainey took over the coaching duties on Jan. 14 after firing Claude Julien, while the Islanders are 7-6-2 since Shaw became interim coach Jan. 12 after Steve Stirling was fired. … Three Montreal players captained Olympic teams—Koivu (Finland), Kovalev (Russia) and Mark Streit (Switzerland).