MONTREAL (AP) -The Montreal Canadiens got a huge contribution from their captain and staved off a comeback attempt by the NHL's top team.
Saku Koivu scored his 20th goal early in the third period, and Michael Ryder got his team-leading 27th in the first in the Canadiens' 4-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night.
Koivu scored 3:22 into the third, coming off the bench and intercepting Ales Kotalik's clearing attempt before driving the net and beating Ty Conklin with a shot into the top right corner that made it 4-2.
"He's a great player," Canadiens defenseman Sheldon Souray said. "He reads the play very well and he was anticipating that play and was able to pick off a pass and he made a great shot to put it in the top shelf. We really needed that."
Radek Bonk and Maxim Lapierre scored in the second period, and rookie Jaroslav Halak stopped 22 shots in his seventh straight start, improving to 6-1 over that stretch.
Montreal, which ended a five-game winning streak Friday with a 5-2 loss in Ottawa, has won eight of 10 and remains in eighth place in the Eastern Conference with 88 points.
The Canadiens have three games remaining, one fewer than ninth-place Toronto, which trails Montreal by one point.
Buffalo's Dainius Zubrus cut the deficit to one 7:15 into the third with his 15th goal.
"They came back and we knew they weren't going to quit," Souray said. "We made it close at the end but we still managed to stay with it and we were able to get the results."
The Canadiens survived a nervous moment after Drew Stafford kicked a puck off Halak's pad and into the goal from the side of the net at 15:29. Referee Wes McCauley waved off the goal, and the sellout crowd of 21,273 erupted in cheers after a video review confirmed the ruling.
"I didn't know what happened," said Halak, who saw a replay on the scoreboard while the play was being reviewed. "I didn't even know that he kicked it in, but then I saw it on the screen so I was all right after that."
Thomas Vanek scored his team-high 39th goal late in the second to draw the Sabres to 3-2. Daniel Briere opened the scoring with his 32nd goal midway through the first.
"We had a period of time where I think five out of six rushes we turned it over at the blue line," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "I don't think we were sitting back, I just thought we made some poor decisions when we hit the line."
Buffalo, which has four games left, remained atop the NHL's overall standings with 107 points, one ahead of Detroit and Anaheim. The only teams that can catch them for first place in the East are Ottawa, which has 102 points and three games remaining, and New Jersey, with 100 points and four games left.
"You don't want to wait until the last game to clinch first place, you want to do it right away," Sabres forward Derek Roy said. "Tonight we went out and we wanted to win this game. We didn't let down at all."
Ryder tied it at 1 with his fourth goal in five games 15:33 into the first. Ryder redirected Francis Bouillon's shot from the left point between Conklin's legs and into the net off the goalie's left pad.
"I just went to the net and I think Frankie saw me all the way," said Ryder, who turned 27 Saturday.
Bonk put Montreal up 2-1 6:39 into the second with a backhand past Conklin's left pad and inside the right post off his own rebound for his 13th goal. Lapierre made it 3-1 with his sixth of the season at 8:16.
Notes: Sabres G Ryan Miller went 4-1-1 in six games against Montreal this season. ... Koivu, who scored his first goal in six games, has eight assists during his five-game point streak. ... The Canadiens have sold out 99 consecutive regular-season games.
|Daniel Briere (32) ASST: Jochen Hecht (35), Teppo Numminen (26)|
1 - 0 BUF
|Michael Ryder (27) ASST: Francis Bouillon (11), Mark Streit (25)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Radek Bonk (13) ASST: Janne Niinimaa (3)|
2 - 1 MTL
|Maxim Lapierre (6) ASST: Alex Kovalev (29), Andrei Markov (41)|
3 - 1 MTL
|Thomas Vanek (39) ASST: Derek Roy (41), Drew Stafford (11)|
3 - 2 MTL
|Saku Koivu (20) ASST: NONE|
4 - 2 MTL
|Dainius Zubrus (24) ASST: Daniel Paille (7), Chris Drury (30)|
4 - 3 MTL
|Drew Stafford Tripping against Saku Koivu|
|Andrei Markov Interference|
|Drew Stafford Hooking against Andrei Markov|
|Mathieu Dandenault Hi-sticking against Jason Pominville|