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While sitting at home, the Montreal Canadiens gained control of their own destiny in the Eastern Conference playoff race. They'll look to maintain their grip on a postseason spot Tuesday night when they host the Boston Bruins.
Following a 4-3 victory over Buffalo on Saturday, the Canadiens (41-32-6) held the eighth and final playoff spot in the East with 88 points - one more than ninth-place Toronto. The Maple Leafs, however, had one game in hand.
That changed Sunday, when the Leafs were routed 7-2 by the New York Rangers. The result gave if Montreal the chance to clinch its third consecutive playoff berth by winning its final three games.
With help, the Canadiens - who trail Tampa Bay by two points and the Rangers by three - could finish as high as sixth in the East.
"I'm definitely a little guilty of scoreboard watching lately myself," Canadiens center Christopher Higgins told the team's official Web site. "This final stretch has been so tight that no one really knows what the heck is going on from night to night it seems."
Michael Ryder scored his team-leading 27th goal in the first period Saturday, and Montreal captain Saku Koivu added his 20th of the season at 3:22 of the third after intercepting a Buffalo clearing attempt. All four goals came at even strength for the Canadiens, who won for the eighth straight time at home and the sixth time in seven games overall.
"The power play isn't going to click and bail us out every night," defenseman Sheldon Souray told the team's Web site."We're playing a lot better at even strength lately and if we can keep that up, we can match up against anyone in the playoffs."
Montreal and Boston (35-38-6) have matched up evenly this season. The Canadiens hold a 4-3 edge in the series, outscoring the Bruins 22-21. In the last meeting, March 22 at Boston, Montreal scored four times in the third period to overcome a one-goal deficit for a 6-3 victory and a home-and-home sweep. Higgins had a goal and three assists for his first career four-point game.
While the Bruins are eliminated from the playoff race, the Canadiens' remaining games after Tuesday are on the road against postseason contenders. They visit the Rangers on Thursday, then finish the regular season Saturday at Toronto in a game that could decide the final playoff spot.
Boston, which will miss its second consecutive postseason and finish last in the Northeast Division for the second straight time, fell to 1-7-1 in its last nine games with a 3-1 loss at New Jersey on Sunday. The Bruins have been outscored 32-12 during that span.
Czech rookie Petr Kalus provided the lone bright spot for the Bruins against the Devils, scoring on the power play for his third goal in six games since being called up from the minor leagues.
"After my first goal I felt more comfortable," Kalus told the team's official Web site. "And I had some for confidence - and now I just have to score more goals."