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Canadiens 3, Bruins 0 @NHLdotcom

BOSTON (AP) - The Montreal Canadiens solidified their hold on the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot. The Boston Bruins just kept sliding down the standings.

Cristobal Huet made 28 saves for his second consecutive shutout over Boston and his fourth of the season, beating the undermanned Bruins 3-0 on Thursday night.

Boston was without Sergei Samsonov, who was sent to the Edmonton Oilers before the game at the NHL trading deadline for Marty Reasoner, Yan Stastny and a second-round draft pick. That left the Bruins, already looking for offense, without much of an attack against a team they need to pass to reach the playoffs.

"He was a big offensive threat for us, and to lose him when you're having trouble scoring goals, it's going to hurt the team," Bruins forward Glen Murray said. "To top it off, losing to a team that we're chasing, it's not good."

Alex Kovalev and Sheldon Souray scored and Tomas Plekanec added an empty-netter with 25 seconds left for Montreal, which won for the fourth time in six games. The Canadiens have beaten Boston four times in five tries this season, and Kovalev and Souray have combined for 11 points against the Bruins.

Tim Thomas made 38 saves for Boston, which has one win in six games. The Bruins fell nine points behind Montreal, which is in eighth place and in position to grab the final Eastern Conference playoff berth.

"My story for the players has been getting away from eighth and focusing on seventh," Canadiens coach Bob Gainey said. "We are not worried about the Bruins because they have other teams to jump ahead of before they get to us."

Huet's success could make it difficult for former Colorado goalie David Aebischer to walk in and take over the starting job. Aebischer was acquired from the Avalanche on Wednesday for Jose Theodore, a former Hart and Vezina Trophy winner who struggled this year before breaking a bone in his right heel while salting the ice outside his Montreal home during the NHL's Olympic break.

"I have no message to send," Huet said. "It's just important for us to keep moving up in the standings."

Gainey said he thinks the internal competition at goalie will help the team. Both will get playing time, he said.

"However," he added, "it would be difficult to go back to Montreal on Saturday and not start Huet after how he played tonight."

Kovalev scored at 6:48 of the second period to make it 1-0, then Souray made it 2-0 seven seconds after David Tanabe was sent off for holding early in the third. Huet, the league's reigning defensive player of the week, stopped Dan LaCouture on a breakaway with 14 minutes left to protect the lead.

The already short-handed Bruins lost Nick Boynton to a game misconduct during a second-period brawl that totaled 30 penalty minutes. But if Boynton was hoping to give the team a spark, he didn't do any better than general manager Mike O'Connell.

O'Connell claimed Mariusz Czerkawski off waivers from Toronto on Wednesday and got Reasoner on Thursday, but neither was available to help Boston against Montreal.

Notes: Huet also shut Boston out on Feb. 4. ... Souray's goal was greeted with cheers from a large contingent of fans rooting for the Canadiens. ... Samsonov was the eighth overall pick in the 1997 draft. Boston also got Joe Thornton with the top overall pick that year and traded him away on Nov. 30.

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