Kovalev got his second straight two-goal game as Montreal scored five unanswered goals in the second period in the Canadiens' 6-4 win over the New York Rangers on Tuesday night.
Kovalev scored a pair of power-play goals to key the outburst which drove Rangers starter Henrik Lundqvist from the net -- to the delight of the sold-out Bell Centre crowd of 21,273 -- midway through the second period after he allowed four goals within 7:30.
"I think Alex said it, he likes this time of the year," Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said.
Canadiens captain Saku Koivu got his fourth assist of the game on Mark Streit's goal 13:03 into the third after Thomas Pock and Matt Cullen scored goals 1:15 apart earlier in the period to draw New York within 5-4.
The Canadiens moved into a tie with Tampa Bay for seventh in the Eastern Conference with 86 points.
"These games right now mean a lot," Koivu said. "For us, it's a must-win pretty much to the end and being down 2-0 after the first and being able to get those goals, it obviously makes it bigger and it's something that you can get the confidence going and hopefully get it going from here on."
Rookie Jaroslav Halak stopped 28 shots, including a save on Jaromir Jagr's breakaway 15:02 into the second.
"I was looking forward to this game, to play against the Rangers because the first game I lost was against them," said Halak, a 21-year-old Slovak who has won eight of 12 starts since he was called up from Hamilton of the AHL on Feb. 15.
"I think we take it as a bit of a break that all the teams that are competing with us lost tonight," said Brendan Shanahan, who assisted on Nylander's 5-on-3 goal which opened the scoring 11:55 in. "Certainly the work we've done in the last month has pushed us to a position where we're still in the driver's seat. We just have to go out in our next game and correct a lot of the things that we did wrong tonight and get a win."
Kovalev, who had his first two-goal game of the season in Saturday's 4-1 win over Washington, started the Canadiens' comeback with his 17th goal on Montreal's first power play 2:17 into the second.
Begin evened it at 2 just 32 seconds later with a shot between Lundqvist's pads on a 2-on-1 at 2:49.
"He gave me the glove side and I was wide open, top shelf, but I knew he wanted me to shoot there so I saw the five-hole open and I shot there and it went in," Begin said.
Rangers coach Tom Renney used his timeout immediately following Begin's goal, though to little avail, as Ryder put the Canadiens up 3-2 at 4:36 with his team-leading 26th goal.
Plekanec got his 20th goal at 9:47 as he backhanded his own rebound past Lundqvist, who was named the league's first star of the week and hadn't allowed four goals in a game since Feb. 5.
Renney pulled him, nonetheless, and Stephen Valiquette took over for his first appearance in 12 games.
"I probably should have done it one goal sooner, as a matter of fact," Renney said. "I'm happy that I did it. Henrik's been just a stalwart for us and he wanted to get the heck out of there and take his pads off and rest a bit. It's a tough decision whenever you do that to a goaltender but he's so valuable to us and his teammates know that and they're not happy with what they did in front of him. We're playing under these circumstances due in large part to him so he knows that and the rest of us do as well."
Kovalev scored his second power-play goal of the period -- his 18th goal of the season -- at 14:09.
- Stock car legend Richard Petty took in the game from a rinkside seat.
- Lundqvist allowed four goals on 15 shots.
- Valiquette stopped nine of 10 shots in his third appearance of the season, his first since he stopped 25 shots in a 3-2 shootout win over St. Louis on March 3.
- There were six players in the penalty boxes at one point late in the second period, including four Rangers.
- It was the Canadiens' 98th consecutive regular-season sellout.