The Buffalo Sabres had their season on the line tonight in Montreal, and they came out flat for 40 minutes, eventually surging in the third; however, it was too litte, too late for Buffalo, who suffered a 3-1 loss at the hands of the Canadiens to officially put an end to their post-season aspirations.
Carey Price was stellar once again, stopping 27 of the 28 shots fired his way.
Despite the slow start for Buffalo, they had some quality chances on Price as the game progressed, and threw everything but the kitchen sink at Price in the third, only being able to get one by him late in the third with Miller pulled for a 5-on-3 advantage (more on that later).
Montreal struck quickly midway through the first, scoring two goals in 40 seconds to take a 2-0 lead.
Higgins opened the scoring on a power play 11:28 in when he beat Miller by re-directing a Mark Streit point shot for his 25th of the season and 50th point overall.
The soldout Bell Centre crowd of 21,273 was still celebrating the Canadiens' opening goal when Smolinski made it a two-goal lead with his seventh goal at 12:08., taking a nifty - yet surely unintentional - feed from Steve Begin from below the goalline and off of the side frame of Miller's net right onto his stick, and releasing a slapshot past Miller's blocker-side.
'Smoke' - as our good friend Karl likes to call him here at HabsHockeyTalkey - then added his second of the game late in the second, converting his own rebound through a maze of Sabres and Habs and through Miller's wickets along the ice, making it 3-0.
As previosuly mentionned, Ales Kotalik would break Price's shutout bid with 8:30 to play in regulation, as the Sabres cashed in on a 4-on-3 opportunity which was in essence a 5-on-3 as coach Lindy Ruff pulled goalie Ryan Miller to attempt the comeback. Kotalik one-timed a Derek Roy feed from the slot that beat Price low and to his left. The goal was the first allowed by Montreal since Jiri Tlusty's goal in Toronto's 4-2 victory over Montreal last Saturday.
The Habs had great opportunites to add to the goal scoring in this game, as Plekanec was stifled by Miller's stick on a breakaway, Andrei Kostitsyn rang a wrister off the post past a downed Miller, and Josh Gorges ran out of real-estate to complete a manoeuvre that would've landed him his 1st NHL goal.
Matt D'Agostini made his NHL debut tonight, taking a penalty on his first shift, cutting his own nose on a follow through of a bodycheck, and nearly collecting an assist on a sweet no-look pass from behind Miller's goal to Sergei Kostitsyn, who was eventually stopped point-blank. He had no shots in 8:49 of ice time.
Montreal have once again tied Pittsburgh atop the Eastern standings with 102, and both teams have one game remaining. To be crowned as Eastern Conference Champions, the Habs will have to finish with one more point than Pittsburgh since the Penguins have one more win than Montreal.
The Habs will host Toronto Saturday, while the Penguins will visit the extremely desperate Philadelphia Flyers, who (idle tonight) have now slipped out of the playoff picture by dropping to 9th place thanks to a Washington win vs. Tampa Bay, vaulting the Caps to 92 points, one ahead of them.
IN OTHER NHL NEWS TONIGHT:
-The Red Wings defeated Columbus with a late comeback capped by Henrik Zetterberg, sealing their claim on the President's Trophy.
-Alex Ovechkin had goals 64 and 65 in the win, significant because he broke the LW single-season record of 63 goals set by Luc Robitaille in 1992-93. Ovechkin also tied Washington's franchise record of single-season PP goals with 22 set by Peter Bondra in 2000-01
-Ottawa's 8-2 win came at a price tonight, as Mike Fisher left with an undisclosed injury and Daniel Alfredsson was ABSOLUTELY LAID OUT by a blindside check from Mark Bell. Alfie skated his next shift before leaving the game for good with what the team is calling a knee injury.
-Nashville's 3-2 win vs. St. Louis has put Vancouver on the ropes. Should the Canucks lose tonight in ANY way (regulation OR overtime), their playoff hopes will close. BASICALLY: Canucks MUST WIN.