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Canadiens defeat Bruins, move into first place

by Arpon Basu

MONTREAL -- The Montreal Canadiens are sitting atop the Atlantic Division, and they know who they have to thank for that.

Max Pacioretty scored his ninth goal in his past nine games and Carey Price made it stand up with 32 saves to propel the streaking Canadiens to a 2-1 win against the Boston Bruins on Thursday.

It was the ninth straight start in which Price has allowed two or fewer goals; he's 7-1-1 with a .951 save percentage and 1.54 goals-against average in that span.

"There's a lot of character in this room and we all know we have a lot more to give. Certain guys are stepping up, like Carey tonight," Pacioretty said. "He won the game for us tonight, and I think it goes in the back of our minds that we owe him a better outing next time.

"The tight group we have in here off the ice makes us want to play for each other, and that's why we're having success right now."

Tomas Plekanec also scored for the Canadiens (18-9-3), who improved to 8-0-1 in their past nine games and 10-1-2 in their past 13 by beating the Bruins (18-8-2) for the fourth straight time dating to last season.

Backup goaltender Peter Budaj also has been stellar during this hot stretch, with a 3-0-1 record and .920 save percentage. He got the victory in a 4-3 shootout win against the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday.

"I like a lot of things about our team this year, starting with our goaltending," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. "Both of our goalies are playing inspired hockey, and they give our team confidence."

Tuukka Rask made 25 saves, and Gregory Campbell scored for Boston, which was limited to one goal or fewer for the third time in 28 games this season.

The Bruins had a 1-0 lead after one period before being outshot 18-7 and outscored 2-0 in the second.

"I think the second period was atrocious and even embarrassing," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "If you look at the way we played in the first and third, the way we played in the second is not acceptable, not for our team. It cost us the game."

The Canadiens moved past the Bruins atop the Atlantic Division standings by one point, but Boston holds two games in hand. It was the fifth straight game between these teams in which first place in the division was at stake.

The Bruins lost defenseman Johnny Boychuk to an injury at 4:28 of the first period when he was hit by Pacioretty and taken off the ice on a stretcher. Boychuk was battling with Pacioretty for a puck along the end boards in the Montreal zone when Pacioretty checked him.

Boychuk immediately went down and remained on all fours for several minutes before being immobilized and wheeled off the ice after a 10-minute delay. Pacioretty was assessed a minor penalty for boarding.

Boychuk was taken to Montreal General Hospital for observation, able to move his extremities before he left, and returned to Bell Centre in time to travel back to Boston with the team for further evaluation.

The loss of Boychuk hurt the Bruins, already missing defenseman Adam McQuaid with a lower-body injury and forced to play with five defensemen the rest of the way. But Julien disregarded the impact of that on the outcome.

"We don't have any excuses tonight. Excuses are for losers," he said. "We've played with five defensemen before and it didn't affect us. We just had a bad second period and it cost us the game. We have to look in the mirror and blame ourselves."

The game began with some intensity as each team looked to set the pace in the first meeting of the season between the longtime rivals. But the injury to Boychuk and the long delay as he received medical attention appeared to cut that momentum and led to a scattered first period.

The Bruins opened the scoring on a play that fit that rhythm.

A lob clearing attempt by Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov was kicked forward at the Boston blue line by Dennis Seidenberg to a streaking Milan Lucic, who entered the Montreal zone with speed and split Markov and P.K. Subban before feeding Campbell for his second goal of the season at 17:35.

The Bruins controlled play in the first, outshooting the Canadiens 10-3, but Montreal came roaring back in the second period to score twice and take the lead.

Plekanec tied the game at 9:16 when his sharp-angled shot went under Rask's left arm for his 10th goal of the season. Pacioretty made it 2-1 by finding a rebound loose in the slot and beating a scrambling Rask with a backhand at 17:42 for his team-leading 11th goal of the season.

"We were waiting a little bit to see what this game was going to be like, in that first period we weren't sharp," Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges said. "We weren't jumping, we weren't pushing the play like we did later in the game. That was a wakeup call for us to come in and turn things around and have a much better second."

The Bruins pushed hard to tie it in the third, taking their turn to dominate the shots with a 16-6 edge, but Price denied them at every turn to secure the win for Montreal.

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