MONTREAL - Less than 48 hours after a loss in Boston, Cristobal Huet made 35 saves as the Canadiens bounced back to blank the Bruins 2-0 Saturday afternoon at the Bell Centre.
The Canadiens (24-22-6) now move back into a ninth-place tie with the Bruins (23-23-8) with 54 points, only one point back of the Maple Leafs for the eighth and final playoff spot in the ever-crowded Eastern Conference playoff picture.
With the Canadiens clinging to a 1-0 lead and Craig Rivet sitting in the penalty box with time winding down in regulation, the stage was set for what proved to be a wild finish. The Bruins pulled goalie Tim Thomas in favor of an extra attacker and pressed for the equalizer during a 6-on-4 advantage, which then became even more dangerous when Steve Begin found himself without a stick. Huet managed to stand strong but not before being forced to make a miraculous save on Sergei Samsonov with just under 30 seconds left on the clock.
"This victory came as a result of our penalty killing unit and our goalie, who held us in the game. Those two elements worked hand-in-hand and we would not have come out with the victory had both not come through for us the way they did," said Canadiens coach Bob Gainey. "You could feel the energy on our bench and the momentum changing as the game went on. Killing off that 6-on-4, that essentially became a 6-on-3 and a half once Begin lost his stick at the end, showed how badly our players wanted this game."
After making 34 saves Thursday night in Boston, Huet picked up his first shutout as a Canadien stopping all 35 shots he faced. It was his first shutout since backstopping the the Kings to a 3-0 win over the Predators in Los Angeles on Feb. 23, 2004. In his 10th start of the season, Huet improved to 4-5-1, with three of his four wins coming at the Bell Centre.
"The shutout is nice, but the important thing is getting this victory over a strong team that is battling with us for a playoff spot," said Huet after picking up his fifth career shutout. "Every shutout is special and they of course rank up there as some of the greatest moments of my career. It didn't hurt to get a little lucky there on that desperation save at the end, but I'll take it."
The Canadiens also handed Thomas only his second regulation loss of the season as he stopped 27-of-28 shots to fall to 7-2-2.
In his return to the lineup after sitting out eight games with a shoulder injury, Andrei Markov picked up where he left off by scoring what proved to be the winning goal just past the midway mark of the third period. With Bruins defenseman Andrew Alberts looking on from the penalty box, Markov one-timed a rebound off the end boards from an Alex Kovalev shot for the defenseman's eighth goal of the season.
"We definitely missed him and It was great to have Andrei back," said defense partner Craig Rivet. "Even though he didn't play his usual minutes, he made a difference when he was out there and scored a huge goal for us."
Seeing the 27-year-old Russian back on the blueline was a welcome sight for the Canadiens who are 3-7-1 without Markov in the lineup this season, including a 2-6-0 stretch during Markov's recent shoulder recovery. A healed Markov is also great news for Team Russia, who are banking on him to lead their defense corps at the Olympics in Turin which are now only 10 days away.
"His patience with the puck and vision allowed us to find the open man up-ice in ways that we can't when Andrei isn't in the lineup," said Gainey, now 3-0 behind the bench with Markov in uniform.
Montreal's power-play was also glad to see Markov back in action, as the Canadiens were 1-for-4 on Saturday afternoon after going 4-for-34 with the man advantage during Markov's eight-game absence.
For the second straight game, the Canadiens came out on the short end in the power-play department. While the Canadiens did manage to kill off all seven Boston power-plays on the afternoon, Montreal had all of four opportunities with the extra man. The Bruins enjoyed a combined 14 power-plays in this home-and-home series versus only six for the Canadiens.
Sheldon Souray put the game away by scoring his fourth of season into an empty net with just 22 seconds remaining in regulation, extending his point streak to four games (1-3-4).
The Bruins will have to wait a little while longer to finally savor their first home-and-home series sweep of the Canadiens since 1956-57. The Canadiens now hold a 71-56-14 all-time edge over Boston in home-and-home games.
Bob Gainey's troops will be back at it again tomorrow afternoon as they host the Philadelphia Flyers in a Super Bowl Sunday matchup set to get underway at 3:00 p.m.
NOTES : D Mark Streit, RW Niklas Sundstrom and RW Aaron Downey didn't dress... The Canadiens kicked off Family Weekend with a capacity crowd of 21,273 taking in Saturday's matinee showdown with the Bruins, marking Montreal's 24th consecutive sellout of the season and 47th straight overall packed house dating back to 2003-04, including the playoffs...A tradition since the early 1990s, the Canadiens are playing in their 14th series of back-to-back contests on Super Bowl weekend, during which they currently hold a 14-9-4-0 record...The Canadiens are now 33-30-12 in the back end of a home-and-home against Boston... Patrice Bergeron and Brad Boyes saw their point streaks end at five and eight games, respectively.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com