MONTREAL - The Canadiens have every reason to feel good about themselves after completing a home-and-home sweep of the Ottawa Senators over the weekend.
With a 4-1 win on Sunday night at the Bell Centre, Claude Julien's troops moved four points clear of Guy Boucher's contingent for top spot in the Atlantic Division with 10 games remaining on their regular-season schedule. The Senators, however, still have one game in hand.
It didn't take the Canadiens long to get to starter Craig Anderson, as Tomas Plekanec lit the lamp just 28 seconds into the first period, before Tom Pyatt tied things up just over four minutes later with Ottawa's lone tally of the night.
Video: Price lifts Canadiens past Senators, 4-1
Before the frame was done, though, defenseman Jordie Benn scored the go-ahead goal - which ultimately proved to be the game-winner - blasting a point shot that ricocheted off a Senators defender and into the back of the net. It was his fourth goal of the season and his second in a Canadiens uniform.
"I think it got faster after it skipped off the ice. It hit the guy's stick, one of the two. It wasn't a very hard shot. A little cricket bounce. It was good," cracked Benn, who also chipped in with a pair of blocked shots, while logging 15:12 of ice time on Sunday night. "We knew coming in that they were right on our tail. We wanted to push and show what we've got. They played well [in both games]. Obviously, we came out with a couple of points."
In his second start in as many nights, Carey Price singlehandedly preserved the lead with a remarkable sprawling pad stop on Senators forward Kyle Turris with 3:15 remaining in the middle period that got the Bell Centre faithful out of their seats.
Needless to say, Price's teammates were equally impressed by the All-World netminder's efforts to keep Ottawa from levelling the scoreline and possibly shifting the momentum in their favour at that point in time.
"That's what he does. Night after night, he makes incredible saves at key moments," praised Brendan Gallagher, on the subject of Price's 30-save performance, which upped his record to 33-17-5 on the year. "He's confident and we know we can count on him. It was a big stop. I don't know if many goaltenders around the world can make a save like that. It helped us keep the lead and we built on it."
Video: OTT@MTL: Price sprawls across for a fantastic save
They certainly did. Paul Byron's 20th goal of the season just 3:30 into the third period really put the Senators on their collective heels. It was Byron's fourth goal in his last four games, and it resulted in his earning first-star honours when all was said and done.
"It was pretty special. I didn't think I'd be a 20-goal scorer in the NHL. I've come a long way to reach that, so it's definitely a special moment. My wife [Sarah] and kids [Elianna and Brysen] were here at the rink, so it's pretty cool for them to see," mentioned Byron, before expanding upon the resounding applause he received from the crowd following the contest, which really did mean the world to him.
"I always knew how passionate the fans in Montreal were. It was a dream coming here and playing an NHL game as a visitor, but to be on the home team every night, it's an incredible feeling. Even when you don't feel your best, with the fans behind you, you always have an extra step in your game because of it. It just makes me really excited for playoffs coming up," added Byron, who joined captain Max Pacioretty as the only other Habs player to reach the 20-goal plateau so far this season.
Video: Paul Byron on his 20th goal of the season
In his second game back since being a healthy scratch against the Chicago Blackhawks last Tuesday night, Nathan Beaulieu capped the scoring with his third goal of the season, snapping a 31-game goal drought in the process. It was his first goal since January 4.
With three more games to go this week on home turf - Tuesday against Detroit, Thursday against Carolina and Saturday against Ottawa - the Canadiens are a confident bunch, but they acknowledge that there's still plenty of work to do before the postseason gets going come April.
"Things are going to get more and more intense as the playoffs get close. We're ready for that challenge and we're excited about it, but we haven't accomplished anything yet. We're hoping that it's a step in the right direction," said Gallagher.
Video: Brendan Gallagher on the win over Ottawa
For his part, Shea Weber thinks performances like these are a good indicator that the Canadiens' best is still to come.
"Since the trades, I think we've established our identity a little more and built on it," said Weber. "We're more consistent and that's what you want this time of year."