One team is depleted by injuries and trying to stay afloat. The other is firing on all cylinders.
The Montreal Canadiens
— one of the hottest teams in the League — inched closer towards replacing the Ottawa Senators
atop the Eastern Conference standings on Tuesday night, as Tomas Plekanec
had two goals and an assist in a 4-3 victory over the slumping Sens at the Bell Centre.
John Paddock’s club dropped to 3-7-0 since losing sniper Dany Heatley
to a shoulder injury on Jan. 12. The Sens — who now lead the Habs by just one point in the standings — were also playing without captain Daniel Alfredsson
due to a hip injury. Ottawa is confident it will have both players back by this weekend.
"We tried to play patient and smart, but basically, that's the kind of game Montreal played," Paddock said. "Without two of our top players, we tried to play more that way. If we keep playing like that, we'll win the hockey game."
The Canadiens used the same approach playing against an Ottawa team that it hadn’t defeated in more than 12 months. The Senators entered Tuesday’s action with a 3-0 record against the Habs this season and had won six straight overall.
Ottawa jumped out to a 1-0 lead just 2:42 into the game on a goal by Chris Kelly
, but the Canadiens responded with four unanswered tallies. Andrei Kostitsyn
got the party started with a power-play goal at 12:11 when he tapped a pretty feed from Plekanec past Martin Gerber
to make it 1-1.
Plekanec put Montreal in front less than four minutes later when he scored his 18th goal of the season, finishing off a tic-tac-toe play with Kostitsyn and Alexei Kovalev
to give the Canadiens a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes.
"At the start of the year, nobody liked us but now we are where we are," said Plekanec. "We can't get overconfident.”
Mark Streit gave the Canadiens a two-goal lead when he beat Gerber 8:14 into the second period. His wrist shot from the point found its way through a crowd and past the screened netminder. Plekanec scored his second goal of the night — this time on the power play — midway through the period, when his shot from the side of the net went off Gerber and over the goal line to make it 4-1.
"Those guys have been so consistent," Canadiens defenseman Mike Komisarek said of the top line of Plekanec, Kovalev and Kostitsyn. "They're just flying out there. I'm sure glad I'm not playing against those three guys. They just seem to be finding each other all over the ice. They have great chemistry and they're getting chances and they're burying them, so they're a big reason why we've had so much success this season."
Montreal nearly allowed the lead to slip away in the third period. Jason Spezza gave the Sens life when he cut the deficit to 4-2 at 2:42. After Ottawa’s Randy Robitaille was caught on a line change, Spezza deked Cristobal Huet before putting it past the Sens’ goalie to make it 4-2.
"They're definitely playing well right now," Spezza said. "They're coming hard, we're not playing our best, but we feel when we get everybody back in the lineup and we get the guys we have in the lineup playing with the confidence we had at the beginning of the year that we can be the elite team we were last year and at the start of this year. We still feel we've got a really good hockey club."
Antoine Vermette got Ottawa within one when he scored on the power play at 7:46 of the third. He was able to redirect Joe Corvo’s shot from the point past Huet for his 13th goal of the campaign.
But the Canadiens wouldn’t allow the Sens to get any closer and avoided surrendering a multi-goal lead for the second straight game. Montreal blew a 3-0 lead to the New York Rangers on Sunday afternoon in a 5-3 loss.
"They came back from 4-1 to make it close,” Plekanec said. “We helped them a bit because we stopped skating. But it's not that we played bad, they worked hard and we had a couple of breakdowns."
Material from wire services was used in this report.