BOSTON - Despite a solid performance from back-up goalie Cristobal Huet, the Canadiens came up just a bit short in a 3-1 loss to the Bruins Thursday night at TD Banknorth Garden in Boston.
The Canadiens (23-22-6) now find themselves two points back of the Bruins (23-22-8), who gained sole possession of ninth spot in the Eastern Conference with 54 points, only one point back of the idle Maple Leafs, who continue to cling to the eighth and final playoff spot.
Patrice Bergeron led the way for the Bruins by scoring the game-winner and adding an assist in Boston's fifth win over its last six games.
Huet made 34 saves on a night that saw the Bruins outshoot the Canadiens by a 37-17 margin. His counterpart, 31-year-old Tim Thomas, made his 10th straight start and continued his recent roll by picking up his seventh victory to improve to 7-1-2 on the season.
The Canadiens were 0-for-2 on the power-play, while the Bruins were 2-for-7, including a 5-on-3 goal by Glen Murray that got Boston on the board. Bergeron also cashed in with the man advantage, while Brad Boyes capped the scoring with an empty net goal.
The Bruins' victory was their first in three meetings so far this season against the Canadiens, with Montreal having already earned a pair of wins, including a 2-1 season-opening victory in Boston on Oct. 5 and a 4-3 final on Oct. 18 at the Bell Centre.
Following a bad line change by the Bruins, the Canadiens opened the scoring when Sheldon Souray spotted a streaking Tomas Plekanec, who broke in alone before wristing a laser up-high past Thomas for his seventh goal of the season. The Czech rookie now has three goals and six points in six games since his return from a knee injury that sidelined the 23-year-old for 14 games.
With an assist on Plekanec's goal, Craig Rivet matched a career high with his 25th point of the season in only 51 games. Rivet, who registered 25 points in 82 games in 2001-02, now has 11 points over his last 12 games to lead all Canadiens blueliners, as he continues to fill the void left by injured defense partner Andrei Markov. Markov missed his eighth straight game with a shoulder injury.
Huet was tested early in his ninth start of the season, when P.J. Axelsson was awarded a penalty shot after being hooked by Francis Bouillon only 7:03 into the first period. After holding his ground and letting Axelsson make the first move, Huet made the save. The former L.A. Kings goalie is now 2-0 in career penalty shots after having also stoned Andrej Nedorost of the Blue Jackets on March 25, 2003.
Axelsson's attempt was the NHL's 72nd penalty shot of 2005-06. Huet's stop increased the goalies' edge on the season to 45-27 over NHL shooters, with netminders having now come out on top at a 62.5 per cent clip.
The Bruins and Canadiens will get right back at it at noon on Saturday at the Bell Centre in the back-end of their home-and-home series.
NOTES: D Mark Streit, C Radek Bonk and RW Alexander Perezhogin were not in the lineup for the Canadiens... Souray's assist on Plekanec's goal extended his point streak to three games (0-3-3)... The Bruins believed to have tied the game almost five minutes into the second period when a shot by Marco Sturm that beat Huet was rightfully deemed to have been preceded by a high-stick by the Bruins forward... Huet was also perfect in a 4-3 shootout win over the Senators on Dec. 20 when he stopped shootout attempts by Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley... Boyes extended his point streak to eight games (5-8-13)...The Bruins are now 15-9-3 since dealing Joe Thornton to San Jose on Nov. 30...
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com