MONTREAL - A week ago, it looked like the Montreal Canadiens' season was coming apart after losses on consecutive nights to close rivals in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
But after their 6-0 thrashing of the New York Rangers on Saturday night thanks to four points from Michael Cammalleri and 32 saves from Jaroslav Halak, it may not be time to write off the Canadiens just yet.
The win came 24 hours after Montreal picked up a rare victory over Martin Brodeur and the Devils in New Jersey and put the Canadiens back into playoff position in eighth place - tied with the Rangers, who hold down seventh because of a game in hand.
"You realize you have to get better, we got serious about things this week," Cammalleri said of losses last weekend of 4-2 to Ottawa and 6-2 to the Rangers in New York. "But these are just two wins. We want a third. This is just a start."
After Scott Gomez scored in the first period, Montreal broke it open with three goals in a 3:42 span early in the second to chase goalie Henrik Lundqvist at 6:17 in favour of Matt Zaba, who allowed two goals on 16 shots in his first NHL action.
Maxim Lapierre, with his first in 29 games, and Benoit Pouliot also scored in the second for Montreal. Scott Gomez got one in the first and Tomas Plekanec scored in the third for Montreal (25-23-5).
The Rangers (24-21-7), beaten 2-0 in Philadelphia on Thursday, are 2-4-1 in their last seven and were shut out in four of those games.
It was an eventful week, as the Canadiens surprised their fans by abruptly releasing enforcer Georges Laraque on Thursday with the intention of buying out the final year of his contract. They responded by going 2-0-0 with two of their best efforts of the season.
The Canadiens also called up journeyman forward Mathieu Darche from Hamilton of the American Hockey League and the Montreal native has a goal and two assists in three games.
Some observers feel the team will have better chemistry without Laraque, who often sat out and was used sparingly by coach Jacques Martin when he see action.
In Laraque's absence Saturday, defenceman Ryan O'Byrne engaged Rangers tough guy Aaron Voros in a long, free-swinging battle in the third period that drew an ovation from the crowd of 21,273 at Bell Centre.
Cammalleri, who finished the night with two goals and two assists, called it "one of the better fights of the year - a face-punching contest."
O'Byrne, who returned to the lineup when veteran Paul Mara went down with a upper body injury, said he appreciated the crowd's reaction and couldn't wait to watch the video on the Internet.
"Voros was running around all night," said the six-foot-five O'Byrne. "Without Big Georges here, guys have to stand up."
It was sombre on the Rangers' side, as they tried to figure out how they were shut out twice on either side of 6-2 and 8-2 wins.
"We're talking about how we need to be consistent but we have to execute it," said Rangers scoring star Marian Gaborik. "We just have to take the positives out of this game and really learn what mistakes we made and get the next game against Pittsburgh (on Monday night). It's frustrating."
Zaba had dressed three times as a backup before finally getting his chance to play, albeit in a blowout loss.
"If you're making your debut, it might as well be against the Canadiens," said Zaba, a native of Yorkton, Sask. "It wasn't bad, but it would be better under better circumstances."
The Canadiens are one of the best 4-on-4 teams in the league and they had two chances to show it in the first 10 minutes. On the second, Montreal won the faceoff in the New York zone and Gomez banged in Jaroslav Spacek's point shot at 9:05. That gave Gomez 16 points in his last 15 games.
The teams were 4-on-4 again 2:35 into the second period when Cammalleri changed his mind about going off on a line change and instead moved up and fired in a pass from Spacek.
Lapierre batted Darche's rebound out of the air and in off Lundqvist at 4:37 and Cammalleri took a behind-the-back pass from Brian Gionta and scored his 26th of the season at 6:17 to chase Lundqvist. Alex Kovalev led the team with 26 goals in all of last season.
Pouliot made a deft move to deflect Cammalleri's pass behind Zaba from the slot on a power play at 10:59. It was Pouliot's 10th goal in 15 games since joining the Canadiens in a trade - one more than he had in 65 games with the Minnesota Wild.
Plekanec was parked at the side of the net to lift a puck in off the post at 12:19 of the third for Montreal's second power-play goal of the night to round out the scoring.
The Canadiens go on the road for games Tuesday at Florida, Wednesday in Tampa and Saturday in Ottawa.
Notes: Before Saturday, Montreal had not scored more than five goals in a game in a game this season. ... Mara sat out with an upper body injury and O'Byrne returned to the lineup. Forward Sergei Kostitsyn returned after missing 10 games with an ankle injury. ... Ales Kotalik and Donald Brashear were scratched for New York. ... Montreal farmhand Mikael Johnsson was returned to his Swedish club Farjestads after 20 games this season with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League.