MONTREAL - The Canadiens reduced the Maple Leafs to an even smaller speck in their rear-view mirror thanks to a convincing 6-2 victory over Toronto Saturday night at the Bell Centre.
With their second home-ice win over Toronto in 48 hours, the Canadiens (34-27-9) reclaimed the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and now hold a one-point lead over the Thrashers with 77 points. Montreal now finds itself only two points back of the seventh-place Devils. The reeling Leafs (32-32-6) now trail the Canadiens by seven points, while also tumbling all the way down to No. 12 in the East behind the Islanders, Panthers and Thrashers.
No stranger to facing the Leafs in important games, Radek Bonk exploded for his first two-goal night since joining the Canadiens. Bonk, who took on Toronto in the playoffs four times in five years while with the Senators, scored his third and fourth goals of the season, including what proved to be the game-winner late in the opening period.
"It feels really good to be able to help out, especially at this point of the season when we need all the goals we can get," said Bonk, who was named the game's first star.
Despite still nursing a sore back that kept him out four of the past seven games, Andrei Markov scored his 10th of the season and added three assists to give the Russian defenseman 40 points, shattering his previous career-high of 37 set in 2002-03. Bob Gainey couldn't be happier to welcome No. 79 back to the lineup, with the Canadiens being an impressive 13-1-3 over the last 17 games they've had Markov in uniform.
Rounding out the scoring for Montreal were Garth Murray and Michael Ryder, who also had a big night with a pair of goals of his own to bring his team-leading total to 27, eclipsing his 25-goal rookie campaign of 2003-04.
Making his fourth straight start, Cristobal Huet didn't do his league-leading save percentage any harm by kicking aside 26-of-28 shots for his 14th win of the season. It was another very long night in Montreal for Mikael Tellqvist, who surrendered six goals as he stopped 23-of-29. Mats Sundin scored both goals for the Maple Leafs.
In what was only a matter of time in light of these archrivals playing their second game in three days in Montreal, things got ugly in the final period, as the desperate Leafs began to show signs of their mounting frustration. Both teams found themselves with considerably shorter benches to end the game, as tempers boiled over to the tune of 111 minutes in penalties being doled out, including 95 minutes in the third period alone.
Alex Kovalev was a surprising contributor in the toughness department as he laid out the always feisty Darcy Tucker before dropping the gloves with the NHL's notorious agitator.
"Sometimes the best person to protect someone is themselves," said Gainey of Kovalev, who ended up with 20 minutes in penalties, including a game misconduct. "Alex is a big man and him sending a message by saying 'Don't mess with me, I can take care of myself' I don't think is necessarily a bad thing.
"This is an emotional time of the year and spirited, intense games are what we can expect the rest of the way," warned Gainey. "It's now up to us to go into Pittsburgh tomorrow and put on the same kind of show."
The Canadiens left immediately following their sweep of the Leafs for their date with Sidney Crosby and the Penguins Sunday night.
Notes: Saturday night's showdown with the Maple Leafs drew a capacity crowd of 21,273, marking the Canadiens' 33rd consecutive sellout of the season and 56th straight overall packed house dating back to 2003-04... Mark Streit, Niklas Sundstrom, and Jan Bulis were not in the lineup, while Francis Bouillon missed his fourth straight game due to an ankle injury suffered last Saturday against the Penguins... The Canadiens' power-play went 3-for-7, while Toronto was 1-for-4... Montreal outscored Toronto a combined 11-3 margin in their rare back-to-back meetings at the Bell Centre...
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com