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Canadiens edge Rangers on Gionta's OT penalty shot

by Arpon Basu

MONTREAL -- Montreal Canadiens captain Brian Gionta was awarded the Jacques Beauchamp Trophy at center ice prior to the game Saturday against the New York Rangers. The trophy is meant to recognize the team's unsung hero for the season, and Gionta was a deserving recipient.

But by the end of the night, there was nothing unsung about Gionta's heroism.

Gionta scored the game's only goal on a penalty shot with 2:04 to play in overtime to give the Canadiens a 1-0 victory against the New York Rangers on Saturday, keeping alive Montreal's hopes for starting the Stanley Cup Playoffs on home ice.

"Home ice is pretty important," Gionta said. "Now we have to sit back and wait to see what happens."

The Canadiens have known for days that they will face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs, but the determination of home-ice advantage in the series will not be known until the Lightning play at the Washington Capitals on Sunday.

Montreal leapfrogged the Lightning into second place in the Atlantic Division; the Canadiens lead Tampa Bay by one point going into Sunday. The Lightning have to beat the Capitals in order to claim home-ice advantage in the first round because the Canadiens hold the first tiebreaker with more regulation and overtime wins.

The Canadiens win gave them 100 points, the first time since 2007-08 they hit the century mark and just the second since 1992-93, the last time Montreal won the Stanley Cup.

"We're pretty comfortable no matter where we're playing," Canadiens goaltender Carey Price said. "We'd obviously like to play here in front of our home crowd, but at the same time we're comfortable playing in any rink."

Price has definitely been comfortable wherever he's played, punctuating a season where he won an Olympic gold medal for Canada with his sixth shutout in a 41-save performance, driving his save percentage to a career-best .927. Price closed the season strong in his final nine starts, facing an average of 34.1 shots per game but posting a .941 save percentage and a 6-3-0 record in that span.

"I can tell you one thing," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said, "that guy's ready."

Gionta's goal was an exciting finish to what had been a rather dull game.

He grabbed a turnover at the Montreal blue line by former teammate Raphael Diaz and was on his way to break in alone when Diaz hauled him down from behind. On the penalty shot, Gionta came in, faked to his forehand and deked to his backhand to beat Rangers goaltender Cam Talbot.

It was his 40th point of the season; he's the eighth member of the Canadiens to hit that mark.

"That's what you play the game for," Gionta said. "Every kid lives for that chance to win the game. The game's on your stick and you have that chance, you've got to enjoy it."

It was the first goal allowed by Talbot in 122:56 played at Bell Centre this season; he earned his first career shutout here on Nov. 16 in a 1-0 victory. Talbot stopped the first 46 shots he faced in his career in Montreal before allowing Gionta's winner.

"He's played really well," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "He's a young goaltender that didn't start the season with us. Came in and got an opportunity to play and deserved his starts and did a real good job behind [Henrik Lundqvist]. We got two very good goaltenders there."

The Canadiens took the season series against the Rangers two games to one, with each of the three games finishing in a shutout and a total of four goals scored between the teams.

Vigneault decided to rest some key veterans, giving Martin St. Louis and Dan Girardi the night off. Defenseman Ryan McDonagh missed his fifth straight game, but he was a healthy scratch after missing four games with a shoulder injury.

The Rangers had little to play for Saturday; they were already locked in to second place in the Metropolitan Division. They found out prior to puck drop that they would be facing the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs thanks to the Flyers' 4-3 overtime win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday afternoon.

"We didn't mail it in," Rangers center Brad Richards said. "We could have won the game. But to be honest with you, we're going to turn this page. We're excited to get this week going. Good work coming up, getting excited for the second season."

Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty fell short in his bid to become the first Montreal player since Vincent Damphousse in 1993-94 to score 40 goals in a season.

Pacioretty was at 31 goals with nine games remaining and looked like a long shot to get anywhere close to 40, but he reeled off eight goals in his next six games to reach 39 before being shut out in his final three regular-season games.

Linemates David Desharnais and Thomas Vanek were trying all night to feed Pacioretty, and probably wound up passing in shooting situations a bit too often.

"Sometimes it's human nature to try and help a teammate to achieve a goal," Therrien said. "Now that this is behind us, Max had a great season. He's a true leader for club, and this is a good line with David and Vanek. Starting the next game, I believe we'll see more aggressiveness to the net from that line because that goal for Max will be behind those guys."

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