OTTAWA - Thanks to a big-time performance from David Aebischer and three points from Mike Ribeiro, the surging Canadiens downed the Senators 5-3 Thursday night at Scotiabank Place.
The Canadiens (40-27-9) extended their winning streak to eight games and pulled back into yet another tie with the Devils for the No. 6 spot in the Eastern Conference with 89 points. Montreal also inched closer to clinching a playoff berth by extending its lead over the ninth-place Thrashers to eight points with only six games remaining. The Senators (50-18-8) have now lost five of their last seven games as they continue to cling to a slim two-point lead over Carolina for the top spot in the East.
Montreal allowed a season-high shot total to the high-powered Senators, but Aebischer stood his ground to say the least by kicking aside 44-of-47 shots to set a new career-high for saves in a game. The 28-year-old netminder helped set the tone by allowing the Canadiens to escape from the opening period tied 1-1, despite Ottawa out-blasting Montreal by a 21-6 margin. In his fourth start since being acquired by Montreal from the Avalanche in exchange for Jose Theodore on March 8, Aebischer made a handful of huge stops to improve to 2-2 with the Canadiens and 27-16-2 on the season.
Ribeiro took care of business at the other end of the ice by scoring his 15th of the season and adding a pair of assists for the Canadiens. Linemate Alex Kovalev also took a bite out of the reeling Senators with three helpers of his own.
The red-hot line of Saku Koivu, Michael Ryder and Chris Higgins did their part with a pair of goals. Higgins notched his 21st of the year, while Koivu's 17th proved to be the game-winner. Ryder assisted on both goals to give the Canadiens' top line a combined 34 points over their last eight games.
Jan Bulis made it two-for-two since returning to the lineup after being a healthy scratch, by scoring his second goal in as many games with his 19th of the season. Mathieu Dandenault opened the scoring less than two minutes into the game with his fifth of the year.
It wasn't an easy night for NHL rookie of the month Ray Emery, who allowed five goals on 32 shots. Dany Heatley scored his 46th and 47th goals of the season in a losing cause for the Senators, breaking Marian Hossa's previous team record of 45. Andrej Meszaros also scored for Ottawa.
The Canadiens were 2-for-4 with the extra man, while Ottawa's second-ranked power play was 1-for-5.
The last time the Canadiens won eight straight was when Vincent Damphousse and Kirk Muller led Montreal to eight consecutive victories from Oct. 24 through Nov. 11, 1992.
In what could be a first-round playoff preview, the Canadiens and Senators will face off once again Monday night in Montreal, but the Habs will first welcome the Devils to the Bell Centre in a battle for the No. 6 seed in the East on Saturday night.
NOTES: With the exception of his goaltender, Bob Gainey went with the same lineup as Tuesday night, as Niklas Sundstrom, Richard Zednik and Todd Simpson were scratched, while Francis Bouillon remains sidelined with an ankle injury...Ribeiro's assist on Dandenault's goal was the 100th of his NHL career...Antoine Vermette was the only Senators player who failed to get a shot on goal...
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com