BUFFALO – The Montreal Canadiens finished the 2011-12 season with the worst record in the Eastern Conference and found themselves picking third overall in the 2012 NHL Draft. Less than a year later, Alex Galchenyuk, Montreal's first-round selection, helped them clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Galchenyuk, Rene Bourque, Brendan Gallagher, Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban had goals scored Thursday as the Canadiens defeated the Buffalo Sabres 5-1 at First Niagara Center to secure a spot in the playoffs. Peter Budaj improved to 7-1-1 between the pipes for Montreal, making 13 saves.
The victory by the Canadiens (26-9-5) combined with the Boston Bruins' loss to the New York Islanders, moved Montreal back into first place in the Northeast Division. The Canadiens have 57 points to the Bruins' 56.
Thursday marked the final meeting of the season between the two clubs. Buffalo was 3-1-0 against the Canadiens this season heading into the game. When the two teams last met on March 23 in Montreal, goaltender Ryan Miller kept the Sabres in the game as they were outshot 39-18, but won 2-1.
Montreal poured it on against the Sabres once again Thursday. The Canadiens outshot Buffalo 15-7 in the first and held a 2-0 lead on goals by Bourque and Galchenyuk. Seven minutes into the second period, the Canadiens were outshooting Buffalo 11-1 and held a 32-11 edge in the game by the time the horn sounded to end the second. Gallagher and Markov scored in the second to give Montreal a four-goal lead.
Miller stopped 28 shots through two periods before being relieved by Jhonas Enroth at the start of the third period. Enroth made nine saves on 10 shots.
The Sabres sit at 38 points, six points out of a playoff spot with seven games remaining. Five of those last seven games are on home ice, but Buffalo is 8-8-3 at First Niagara Center this season.
Brian Flynn scored shorthanded for the Sabres 6:45 into the third period to spoil Budaj's shutout bid.
Canadiens forward Jeff Halpern reached a milestone, playing in his 900th NHL game.
Bourque opened the scoring 6:43 into the game. Sabres forward Thomas Vanek lost the puck in his skates at the Canadiens blue line and Bourque started back on a 2-on-1 with Tomas Plekanec. Bourque sent the puck to Plekanec on the right wing, who then fed a backhand pass back into the slot to Brian Gionta, coming late. Gionta's shot deflected off Bourque's heel as he crossed in front of the net and went past Miller.
Montreal struck again at 10:27 after some hard work behind the net. Michael Ryder beat defenseman Mike Weber behind the net and curled his way around in front to Miller's left. Ryder sent a pass across the crease that Galchenyuk buried on his second attempt after his first went off the side of the net and came right back to him.
Galchenyuk, who turned 19 in February, now has six goals in his first professional season.
Gallagher, a fellow rookie who was drafted in 2010 (No. 147) by Montreal, put the Canadiens ahead 3-0 at 4:36 of the second period. A slap shot by David Desharnais was turned aside by Miller, but the rebound went to Gallagher, who was standing unchecked to Miller's right. Gallagher pulled the puck back into the slot and reached past an outstretched Miller to put it in around his left pad for his 12th of the season.
Montreal made it 4-0 at 17:54 during a 5-on-3 power play. Flynn attempted to block Andrei Markov's slap shot from the point, but the puck deflected off his stick, floated up and skipped into the net behind Miller.
Subban scored a power-play goal with 2:41 remaining in regulation to make it 5-1. His shot from the point through was deflected before finding its way past Enroth. The goal was Subban's 11th of the season, the most by any defenseman this season.