PITTSBURGH - Having snatched the eighth and final playoff spot from the Thrashers only 24 hours earlier, the Canadiens made it clear they have no intention of looking back with a 6-5 victory over the Penguins Sunday night at Mellon Arena.
Despite playing their fifth game in seven days and coming off a pair of hard-fought victories over the Maple Leafs, the Canadiens (35-27-9) hung on for their third straight win to pull into a seventh place tie with the Devils with 79 points. Montreal also gained a little breathing room by extending its lead over the Thrashers to three points for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference.
Chris Higgins and Alex Kovalev each scored a pair of goals as Montreal avoided a season-sweep at the hands of the lowly Penguins. Higgins notched his 16th and 17th of the season, while Kovalev now has 20 goals to go with his team-leading 56 points.
The suddenly red-hot Radek Bonk scored his fifth of the year, giving him three goals over his last two games after totalling two over his first 49 games this season. Bonk is also now riding a three-game point streak (3-1-4).
Michael Ryder scored what proved to be the winning goal at the 13 minute mark of the third period. The Canadiens' leading scorer with 28 goals, Ryder also has a team-high six game-winners on the season.
Saku Koivu also had a big night with three assists for the Canadiens, who have now scored 17 goals over their last three games after managing only 18 in their previous eight games.
While it may have taken a little longer than he would have hoped, David Aebischer finally notched his first win since joining the Canadiens. Making his third start with Montreal, Aebischer turned aside 30-of-35 shots to improve to 26-16-2 on the season. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 19-of-25 shots, while Colby Armstrong (2), Tomas Surovy, Noah Welsh and John LeClair scored for the Penguins (18-41-12).
Monreal's fifth-ranked power-play went 3-for-7, while Pittsburgh was 2-for-4 with the extra man.
The Canadiens' playoff hunt continues Tuesday night when they welcome the New York Islanders to the Bell Centre.
NOTES: Mike Ribeiro did not dress for only the third time of the season, joining Todd Simpson and Aaron Downey as a healthy scratch...In addition to Bonk, Koivu, Higgins, Ryder, Mathieu Dandenault and Sheldon Souray all extended their point streaks to three games...The final score marked the first time since December 6, 2002 that a Canadiens game finished with at least 11 total goals scored. Back then, the Canadiens fell 7-6 to the Colorado Avalanche in overtime...The Canadiens improved to 7-0 when converting at least three times on the power-play.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com