MONTREAL (AP) -While the Montreal Canadiens would be happy to celebrate their first conference title in ages, they finished the regular season with their eyes turned toward a making an unexpected run at a record 25th Stanley Cup.
Chris Higgins scored twice and Mark Streit had a goal and an assist as Montreal beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1 Saturday night to finish their schedule atop the Eastern Conference.
"I think it's been a dream year," said coach Guy Carbonneau, whose team completed the regular season with a 47-25-10 record for 104 points.
The Canadiens have a two-point lead on second-place Pittsburgh, which plays its final game Sunday in Philadelphia. Montreal will claim its first conference title in 19 years if the Penguins, who also have 47 wins, lose to the Flyers.
"Obviously it would be great, but they don't really hang conference titles in this rink, they raise Stanley Cup banners," Canadiens goalie Carey Price said. "It would be kind of nice to get it but everybody knows what the ultimate prize is."
Price stopped 26 shots, finishing his rookie season with a 24-12-3 record and three shutouts in 41 games.
"It seems like I'm climbing the hill pretty fast, so hopefully I can keep climbing," said the 20-year-old goalie, who was chosen fifth overall by Montreal in the 2005 draft.
Regardless of whether they finish first or second overall in the East, Montreal will face Boston in the opening round of the playoffs as a result of the Bruins' 3-0 loss to Buffalo.
The Canadiens will host the series opener Thursday at the Bell Centre.
Mark Bell scored late in the second for Toronto, which missed the playoffs for a third straight season. The Maple Leafs finished last in the Northeast Division and 12th overall in the East with a 36-35-11 mark and 83 points.
Rarely-used backup Andrew Raycroft made 33 saves for Toronto, though it was the three shots that he didn't stop that pretty much summed up his dismal season.
"I'm not going to think about hockey for a while," Raycroft said. "I won't be watching playoff games, I won't be watching highlights, I won't be watching talk shows, I won't be listening to the radio. I'll be as far away as I can get."
Streit opened the scoring 9 minutes into the second when his soft wrist shot from the blue line somehow got between Raycroft's blocker and his right pad.
"The first goal was just a matter of him not being in the net," Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice said.
Higgins made it a 2-0 lead to the delight of the crowd of 21,273 - Montreal's 141st consecutive sellout - when his shot from the right side went in off the tip of Raycroft's glove for his 26th goal at 14:03.
Bell drew the Maple Leafs within 2-1 when he was left alone in the slot to beat Price with a quick shot for his fourth goal at 18:02.
Higgins got his second of the game - extending his career high to 27 goals - when he beat Raycroft with a quick shot during a power play 7:28 into the third on a fine setup by Bryan Smolinski.
The goal gave the Canadiens a league-high total of 262 this season, one more than Ottawa. Detroit, which hosts Chicago on Sunday to complete its schedule, is third with 253 goals.
Montreal has not led the NHL in goals since 1979-80. The Canadiens scored 328 goals that season, one more than Philadelphia.
|Mark Streit (13) ASST: Alex Kovalev (49), Tomas Plekanec (40)|
1 - 0 MTL
|Chris Higgins (26) ASST: Mark Streit (49), Ryan O'Byrne (6)|
2 - 0 MTL
|Mark Bell (4) ASST: Kris Newbury (1), Jason Blake (37)|
2 - 1 MTL
|PPG - Chris Higgins (27) ASST: Bryan Smolinski (17), Andrei Markov (42)|
3 - 1 MTL
|Power Play %||15.9%||16.5%|
|% on Road||11.0%||10.7%|
|% at Home||20.6%||22.1%|
|Mathieu Dandenault Hi-sticking against Staffan Kronwall|
|Roman Hamrlik Hooking against Jason Blake|
|Boyd Devereaux Hooking against Roman Hamrlik|
|Bryan McCabe Hooking against Alex Kovalev|
|Kris Newbury Tripping against Roman Hamrlik|
|Ian White Hooking against Guillaume Latendresse|
|Pavel Kubina Slashing against Tomas Plekanec|
|Tomas Plekanec Interference against Pavel Kubina|
|Bryan McCabe Holding against Chris Higgins|
|Matt Stajan Roughing against Andrei Kostitsyn|
|Andrei Kostitsyn Roughing against Matt Stajan|
|Darcy Tucker Fighting (maj) against Josh Gorges|
|Josh Gorges Fighting (maj) against Darcy Tucker|
|Dominic Moore Roughing against Andrei Markov|
|Pavel Kubina Cross checking against Andrei Kostitsyn|
|Bryan McCabe Slashing against Gregory Stewart|
|Bryan McCabe Fighting (maj) against Gregory Stewart|
|Gregory Stewart Fighting (maj) against Bryan McCabe|