BOSTON -- Thanks to a pair of goals from Alex Kovalev, the Canadiens moved even closer to clinching a playoff spot with a 4-3 win over the Bruins Thursday night at TD Banknorth Garden in Boston.
The Canadiens (42-29-9) strengthened their grip on the No. 7 spot in the Eastern Conference with now 93 points and are just one point away from clinching a playoff berth. The No. 8 Tampa Bay Lightning now sit four points back of Montreal and only two points ahead of the dogged Thrashers, who downed the Capitals to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Kovalev led the way with a three-point night, including his 21st and 22nd goals of the season. The Russian winger didn't waste any time getting on the score sheet by beating Tim Thomas only 20 seconds into the game with a wicked wrist shot. Kovalev then wired another laser beam just beneath the cross bar past Thomas in the third period for what proved to be the game-winner.
Jan Bulis chipped in with a goal and a pair assists as the line of Kovalev, Bulis and Mike Ribeiro picked up a combined seven points. Bulis tipped in an Andrei Markov shot from the point, reaching the 20-goal mark for the first time in his nine-year career. Richard Zednik continued his recent resurgence by cashing in a perfect 2-on-1 feed from Tomas Plekanec for his 16th of the year.
David Aebischer kicked aside 25-of-28 shots as he picked up his third straight victory to improve to 29-16-2, including a 4-2 mark since coming to Montreal. Thomas stopped 22-of-26 shots. Leading the way for Boston was 20-year-old Patrice Bergeron, who notched his 30th and 31st goals of the season, becoming the youngest player in team history to score 30 goals. Yan Stastny, the son of Nordiques' great Peter Stastny, scored his first NHL goal in a losing cause for the Bruins (29-36-16).
The Canadiens will host the Sabres Saturday night before wrapping up the regular season versus the Devils Tuesday night at the Bell Centre.
NOTES : Mark Streit, Aaron Downey and Maxim Lapierre were not in uniform, while Steve Begin (knee) and Francis Bouillon (ankle) remained sidelined. Todd Simpson logged 15:02 of ice-time and dropped the gloves with Dan LaCouture in his return after having been a healthy scratch for the past seven games. The Canadiens end the 2005-06 season with 18-18-5 record on the road, marking only the fourth time in 12 seasons that Montreal has been .500 or above away from home.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com