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Canadiens boost playoff hopes with 3-0 win over Sabres

by John Kreiser

Two games in two days, two shutouts for Jaroslav Halak – and four big points for the Montreal Canadiens.

Halak stopped 29 shots for his second shutout in as many days and got some offensive support from unexpected sources as the Canadiens moved closer to clinching a playoff berth with a 3-0 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night.

The Slovak Olympian earned his fifth shutout of the season and ninth of his career. It came one night after he made 35 saves in a 1-0 win at Philadelphia.

"Last night we kind of slowed down, we gave them more chances, but tonight we kept playing and we kept our forecheck and our third man high, and I think that was the key," Halak said.

Montreal took a 2-0 lead on rare goals by Ryan O'Byrne and Tom Pyatt. O'Byrne scored his second career goal and first in 100 games in the first period. Pyatt made it a two-goal lead with his second goal in 37 games in the second.

Sergei Kostitsyn scored in the third for the Canadiens, who own sixth place in the Eastern Conference with 86 points and three games remaining. Montreal is two points ahead of No. 7 Boston, a 2-1 winner in overtime at Toronto, which has three games remaining. Philadelphia and the New York Rangers each have 82 points and four games remaining.

Halak was under siege for much of the night in Philadelphia, where the Flyers buzzed Montreal’s zone for most of the night. Not this time.

"We played a really solid game," O'Byrne said. "I thought a really good positive was in nights past we've kind of had a tendency to sit back on our heels after taking the lead after the first or second. Tonight we came out in the third and played with poise and made plays and kept pushing."

Halak hasn't allowed a goal since Dainius Zubrus scored with 4:41 remaining in New Jersey's 4-2 win at Montreal last Saturday.

"He made no mistakes," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "I think we could have made it tougher but you've got to give him a lot of credit, he played well. He was as good as he was (Friday)."

Ryan Miller made 35 saves for Buffalo, which lost its second in a row and missed an opportunity to clinch its first Northeast Division title in three years after Ottawa lost 4-1 on Long Island on Saturday afternoon. The Sabres, who have four games remaining, are third in the East with 96 points -- five ahead of Ottawa, which has three games to play.

The loss also dropped the Sabres into third place in the Eastern Conference; they trail New Jersey by one point.

"It's not just the No. 2 seed, I think it's trying to get better going into the playoffs," Sabres center Paul Gaustad said. "That's our No. 1 goal -- trying to improve every game going into the playoffs. Right now, I think we've taken two steps back and we've got to get back on track."

Montreal got a break on the play that led to the opening goal at 12:03 of the first period. The puck struck the netting above the glass in the right corner but the Sabres kept on playing -- despite Canadiens center Dominic Moore pointing up.

"For the most part the refs are able to see it," said Buffalo's Jason Pominville, who lost sight of the puck after it deflected off his skate.

O'Byrne beat Miller moments later with a shot from the right point for his first goal since March 3, 2008.

"You've got to just play on -- you can't just stop -- so it's convenient after the fact to say it hit the net but I think both teams played on and I think it was a fair goal," Moore said.

Pyatt gave Montreal a 2-0 lead 2:41 into the second when he put the rebound of Maxim Lapierre's shot past Miller for his first goal in 17 games. Kostitsyn scored his seventh of the season at 6:37 of the third.

Halak did the rest.

“Having your goalie play the way Jaro is right now is big for all of us but especially for a defenseman,” O’Byrne said. “Knowing how strong he’s been back there allows us to just make plays and not worry about him making saves. His confidence has seeped into all of our games.”

Material from team media and wire services was used in this report
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