MONTREAL - It could be said that the Flyers blew another two-goal lead in a playoff game, and lost.

It also could be argued that the Montreal Canadiens got a lot of help from the officiating with two calls that, in the end, negated an effort that should have put the Flyers ahead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Instead, a borderline, last- minute kneeing call and a resulting power-play goal by Alex Kovalev that tied the game and a ruling on a second-period Kovalev goal that appeared to have been scored with a high stick resulted in a 4-3 Montreal win in overtime last night in the Bell Centre.

Tom Kostopoulos got a second chance at his own rebound and scored the game-winner 48 second into overtime, putting the Canadiens up, 1-0, in the best-of-seven series that resumes tomorrow night in Montreal.

"We certainly didn't get any breaks," coach John Stevens said when asked how he felt about the calls.

On the high-stick goal, he said: "I thought his stick hit the top of the net after he hit the puck so logically you would think it was a high stick."

And the kneeing penalty on Mike Richards with 1:09 left to play, which resulted in Kovalev's tying goal with 28.6 seconds left in regulation?

"I certainly didn't think so," Stevens said. "I know [Richards] was confused."

And so it went. A solid effort and a well-executed game plan were cast aside by borderline calls that today are not worth the time and energy arguing.

The Flyers played an up-tempo game when they should have been legless, matched Montreal in speed and skill and jumped out to a two-goal lead before the Canadiens rallied.

R.J. Umberger (with a lot of help from Canadiens defenseman Patrice Brisebois), Jim Dowd and Joffrey Lupul scored and Martin Biron, solid through the playoffs, made 30 saves before taking his fourth loss of the postseason.

Today, the Flyers will get some rest and watch game tape before heading back into the Bell Centre for a crack at splitting the first two games.

"I was very proud of the effort here," Stevens said. "It was our third game in 4 nights and I was really, really happy with the way we responded here tonight. They came at us hard, but we regrouped and we had a good first period.

"I really thought we played well for the first game in the second round. If we can get some juice back in our legs, there are some things we can do better. But from [Biron] on out I thought we played a pretty gutsy game. We're going to have to regroup and get ready for the next one."

Whatever it is they can do better probably will have to do with tighter defensive-zone coverage. While they were not bad last night, the Canadiens have the kind of forwards who can get to the net and the Flyers will want to stop that.

As for the attack, the plan was to match with speed, try to get behind the Montreal defense, get pucks in deep and then shots on rookie goalie Carey Price.

"We're trying to get behind their defense, get pucks behind, get first into their zone," said winger Scottie Upshall. "We know Price is a young goalie and he might have trouble playing pucks so we're going to get in there, try to make it hard on him, finish checks.

"Our game plan in the last series was playing physical, being hard on their defense, and that's what we're going to do here."

If the Canadiens were the more rested team, it didn't show in the first period. The Flyers were moving their feet like they hadn't played all week instead of closing out a Game 7 on Tuesday night in overtime.

True, Montreal had the first flurry of chances, but Biron was on top of all of them and the Flyers were counter-punching with speed and stretching the ice on every play they could.

Brisebois was caught scrambling, with Umberger charging in off the wing and Patrick Thoresen coming at Price from the other side. Umberger passed toward Thoresen and Brisebois tried to pick it off but tipped it behind Price instead, giving Umberger the free goal and the Flyers a 1-0 lead 13:15 into the game.

The lead was boosted to 2-0 off a cycle play behind the net. Thoresen went to Steve Downie, who caught the puck in his skate and then tipped it out front on the other side. Dowd glided in and fired, blowing the puck into the net at 16:49.

Biron was helped when the Canadiens twice hit the post.

The action was just as fast in the second period, and it resulted in a Montreal penalty shot when Lasse Kukkonen took Andrei Kostitsyn's skate out when he got in alone on Biron.

On the penalty shot, Biron held his ground when Kostitsyn tried to pull him out of position, and the score stayed at 2-0.

He didn't miss the next time down.

Jeff Carter turned the puck over at center ice and it was picked up by Sergei Kostitsyn. His shot was blocked but brother Andrei got the loose puck and fired it past Biron, cutting the edge to 2-1, 9:44 into the second.

The goal put some speed back into the Canadiens' skates.

The Flyers got their first power play of the game, but it went bad when Montreal picked the puck off in its defensive zone and started up ice. Tomas Plekanec took a shot that deflected high and Kovalev picked it out of the air and batted it down behind Biron. The replay showed that Kovalev's stick appeared to make contact with the puck above the crossbar, and by rule should have been nullified.

It wasn't. After a long review, the goal was left to stand.

"[Referee] Don VanMassenhoven told me that he thought it went off my head,'' Biron said. "That's why I was mad. He was right there. I thought he could have called what he saw but he said he saw it go off my head and then there was another call on the play.

"I thought it was a high stick right away, but once they make the call they go to Toronto [for video review], and that's what happened."

The third period started with 25 seconds of leftover power play time for the Flyers, and they got another bounce.

Braydon Coburn took a shot from the point. The puck bounced off Price's glove and dropped onto Lupul's leg and in, giving the Flyers a 3-2 lead at 19 seconds.

The period ended with the Richards call. The center stepped up on Kovalev and into his body and Kovalev went flying. Richards was sent off for kneeing and shortly thereafter the game was tied and heading into overtime.

"If it was a knee, I obviously didn't mean to," Richards said. "I was trying to just take the body, that was what I was trying to do. I haven't seen the replay so I would just give him the benefit of the doubt right now."

With the power play and nothing to lose, Montreal pulled Price and had a six-on-four power play. The Canadiens made it count.

"It was disappointing," Richards said. *