MONTREAL - Thanks to a pair of goals from Garth Murray and one more shutout from Cristobal Huet, the Canadiens continued their march to the playoffs with a 2-0 victory over the Bruins Saturday night at the Bell Centre.
The streaking Canadiens (38-27-9) won their sixth straight to remain deadlocked with the Devils for the No. 6 spot in the East with 85 points. The Lightning, who began the night in a three-way tie with both Montreal and New Jersey, now find themselves alone in the eighth and final playoff spot with 83 points, five points ahead of the Thrashers. The Bruins (28-34-13) are now officially eliminated from playoff contention for the first time since 2000-01.
Murray provided Huet with all the offense he would need by accepting a nifty feed from Alexander Perezhogin before beating Tim Thomas up high, late in the second period. The Regina native was just getting warmed up as Murray added a little insurance by tipping in a Craig Rivet point shot just over seven minutes into the final frame for his fifth goal of the season.
Anyone fretting that the rugged Murray had left his feisty roots behind in favor of his new-found scoring touch can rest easy knowing that he also dropped the gloves with Dan LaCouture and co-led the Canadiens with five hits. To top it all off, Murray was named the game's first star and the announcement of his name could not go unnoticed as the 23-year-old did everything but skate an entire lap around the ice.
"Yep, that was no accident," admitted a grinning Murray after his first career two-goal night. "A player like me never knows if that's ever going to happen again, so figured I would make the most of it. There was no way I was just going to a quick loop and then get off the ice. I made the widest turn I could and I made sure I saw everyone sitting there in the stands."
Murray's dream night also included a well-deserved gesture from Bob Gainey.
"Having a coach that sends you out there when you're looking for the hat trick tells you a lot about him," said Murray of Gainey, who also acquired Murray just prior to the season from the Rangers in exchange for Marcel Hossa. "It means that it's important to him to reward his players and that's all a player can really ask for."
While one of Saturday night's heroes was new to the role, a familiar face took care of the rest. Huet was dominant once again in turning aside all 32 shots he faced for his 17th win of the season.
"I'm running out of words to describe what Cristobal has been doing lately," shrugged Craig Rivet.
Rivet isn't alone, as few have been able to explain how the once-unknown Huet is now the toast of not only Montreal, but also the NHL. Thanks to yet another shutout, Huet now leads the league in both save percentage (.933) and goals against average (2.06), moving past the injured Dominik Hasek's previous benchmark of 2.09. With seven shutouts, Huet is also only one behind the Flames' Miikka Kiprusoff for the league lead.
No team has suffered more at the hands of Huet than the Bruins, who have been blanked three-straight times by the French netminder, while managing only a scant two goals against Huet in four games this season. Huet will carry his shutout string of 207:20 against Boston into Tuesday night's matchup, when the Canadiens and Bruins wrap up their two-game mini series at the Bell Centre.
NOTES : Saturday night's showdown with the Bruins drew a capacity crowd of 21,273, marking the Canadiens' 36th consecutive sellout of the season and 59th straight overall packed house dating back to 2003-04... Niklas Sundstrom, Jan Bulis and Todd Simpson were healthy scratches, while Francis Bouillon sat out his eighth straight contest with a left ankle injury. Bouillon was back on skates this week, but has yet to practice with the team ... The last time the Canadiens won six in a row was during their playoff push at the tail-end of the 2001-02 season, when Hart and Vezina Trophy winner-to-be Jose Theodore led Montreal to seven straight victories from March 28 through April 9, to help the Canadiens reach the postseason.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com