MONTREAL - When it was over, the bookend ovations, the three visits to the penalty box, the shootout win, Saku Koivu looked relieved more than anything else.
He was gratified that another couple of rollercoaster days of emotion, which had always seemed to mark his days in this city where he grew from boy to man and won both a battle with cancer and the hearts of discerning Montreal Canadiens fans, were over.
ďMentally, itís been a tough two or three days. (I) kind of feel Iím tired in a way, but itís a good feeling,Ē said Koivu, the former Habs captain who was celebrated with ovations at the end of the national anthem and after he was named the gameís second star as his new team, the Anaheim Ducks, beat the Habs 4-3 in a shootout win at the Bell Centre.
ďThatís kind of what I mean by saying that Iím happy that itís done and we can move on and now this game that I waited for for so long is done and everything went the way it did.
ďI donít see any better way than the way it went, personally getting the win and the reaction that I did. Itís an amazing feeling.Ē
Koivu made it interesting, as he always did during his 13 years with the Habs, taking a penalty in the waning moments and opening the door for Montrealís Max Pacioretty to tie the game 3-3 with 13 seconds left in the third period, bringing the Habs back from a 3-1 deficit. But Anaheimís Bobby Ryan got the only goal of the shootout to make Koivu and the Ducks winners.
Koivu was named the gameís second star in voting by the fans (under the Habsí rules the overtime or shootout winner automatically gets the first star nod) after some Canadiens fans started a Facebook group to lobby votes for Koivu.
It was a special night as they are always are here when Canadiens fans honour those players who earn a place in their hearts if not in the Bell Centre rafters.
As the Canadian anthem wound down, a live image of Koivu flashed on the high definition scoreboard and the crowd erupted into an ovation. Koivuís teammates stayed close to the bench, leaving Koivu to skate around the Ducks zone and out to centre ice. He acknowledged the crowdís affection with a wave of his stick and the noise grew.
Canadiens centre Scott Gomez, who donned the number 11 Koivu wore while he was in Montreal - after it enjoyed a one-year hiatus last season - stayed near the Montreal bench, leaving Koivu out near centre ice, alone, to bask in the wave of noise rolling down from the stands.
Koivu gestured to his teammates to join, but they lingered at the bench.
It was a nice moment and finally Gomez skated to centre for the faceoff.
ďHe asked if I wanted to win the faceoff and I didnít hear,Ē said Koivu, ďand then the puck was laying there and he won it.Ē
He drew an assist on the Ducksí third goal and got that second star, skating out, touching his heart and bowing his head.
ďI wanted to show how much I appreciate and respect the fans here,Ē he said, ďand give them the thank you that they deserve.
Criticized during his time as captain for not speaking French, Koivu was asked if he had a final message for Francophone fans.
ďAgain, merci,Ē he said.
ďI was here for a long, long time. What I am today as a human being, itís a lot because of Montreal, what I learned here, what I went through here. It was and still is, kind of a home for us. You donít create a bond like this very often and itís a very unique thing. I feel very, very privileged.Ē
From the cheers showered down in the Bell Centre, it sounded like the feeling was mutual.