MONTREAL - Armed with the league's top-ranked power play, the Canadiens have often been guilty of living and dying by its success this season. But with a playoff spot on the line, the Habs couldn't have picked a better time to flex a little muscle at even strength.
No one has benefited more from the Canadiens' lethal power play than Sheldon Souray, but even he knows that games in the spring aren't won on special teams alone.
"The power play isn't going to click and bail us out every night," said Souray, through his badly swollen lips after receiving a Dany Heatley high stick in Ottawa Friday night. "We're playing a lot better at even strength lately and if we can keep that up, we can match up against anyone in the playoffs."
On paper, the Canadiens had no business giving the Sabres a run for their money at even strength on Saturday night. The Habs came into the game ranked next-to-last in the league with only 118 goals playing 5-on-5, while the Sabres are tops in that category with 197 goals.
That being said, the Canadiens scored all four of their goals at even strength to notch a huge win over Buffalo, the league's No. 1 team.
Those who saw the Canadiens' glass as half-empty this season, pointed to the team's apparent inability to score at even strength as the Habs filled the net with ease on the power-play.
"We showed here tonight that we can play 5-on-5 with these guys," said Begin. "With so few penalties called, we were able to really get into a rhythm."
Despite being in his first NHL season, Maxim Lapierre knows that it will take a village for the Canadiens to extend their season deep into the spring.
"The closer we get to playoff time, the more important it is for everyone to contribute," Lapierre said after scoring his sixth goal of the season. "Every line did their part tonight and that's how we got the win."
With the Canadiens claiming the season series against the Sabres with a 4-2-2 mark, the prospect of a possible first round showdown with Buffalo may be a blessing in disguise for the now eighth-ranked Habs.
"The Sabres are a team with so much speed from top to bottom that they force us to skate hard," said Mike Johnson. "We've been successful against them this year because the more we skate, the better we play."
Like fans anxiously watching at home, it seems the players on the Canadiens' bench were also itching to find out how their Eastern Conference rivals were faring in the heated playoff race.
"I'm definitely a little guilty of scoreboard watching lately myself," admitted Christopher Higgins, the game's first star. "This final stretch has been so tight that no one really knows what the heck is going on from night to night it seems."
Higgins won't be the only one glued to his TV set tomorrow night when the No. 7 Rangers face the ninth-ranked Leafs.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com