The Montreal Canadiens survived a 4-goal rally in the 3rd period by the Ottawa Senators to hold on for the 7-5 win vs. the Senators, clinching a playoff berth and extending their lead over Ottawa to 7 points in the process.
The floodgates opened up early for Montreal, and eventually opened up for Ottawa as well.
Andrei Kostitsyn scored twice in the first period (including once on the powerplay), and Chris Higgins added one in between those two to spring the Habs ahead by 3 vs. their kryptonic rivals.
Ottawa would start the 2nd period with a change in personnel, as Martin Gerber got the hook from coach Murray and Ray Emery strapped up for relief action.
The Sens would get one back midway through the 2nd courtesy Antoine Vermette on a Carey Price giveaway, but that goal seemed to furth spark the Habs' offensive machine, as Montreal would add 4 more before the second period's end to lead the game 7-1. The goals came from Bouillon, Markov (PPG), Grabovski and Kostopoulos (SHG).
Clearly, the match seemed out of hand for Ottawa, and the scoring appeared to be destined for double digits on the Habs' half of the scoreboard, no matter who was manning the pipes for the Sens.
But disaster would strike... well, nearly.
The Sens would get goals early and often in the 1st half of the 3rd period, scoring 3 times to reduce the differential in goals to 3. Dany Heatley got it started, Martin Lapointe followed up, and Heatley contributed again before the 10 minute mark hit.
It was nearly time to push the panic button, but Carey Price (despite the onslaught) did his job even with the defensive breakdown in effect, making key saves on Dany Heatley and Antoine Vermette in tight.
The Sens would add one more with slightly under 2 minutes remaining, as Jason Spezza redirected a Cory Stillman slapper on the powerplay to get the Sens in goalie-pulling territory, but the Senators ran out of time to complete the impressive comeback, losing 7-5.
The refereeing seemed to be a little lenient towards Ottawa and a little harsh towards the Canadiens, but all in all, Montreal were able to hold on for the regulation win, which can go a long way from now to the end of the regular season in determining who will win the Northeast Division (and possibly the Eastern Conference) championships.
The Pittsburgh Penguins dropped a 4-1 decision on Long Island to allow the Habs to earn a 3 point separation on them for 1st in the East.
The Habs are off until they visit Buffalo Friday at the HSBC Center.