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Canadiens top Kings 4-2 to take over 8th in East

by Brian Compton

That three-way tie for eighth place in the Eastern Conference is no more.

Benoit Pouliot had a goal and an assist, Scott Gomez had two assists and Jaroslav Halak made 23 saves as the Habs seized control of the last playoff berth with a 4-2 win against the Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Center on Saturday night.

Brian Gionta, Dominic Moore and Tomas Plekanec also scored for Montreal, which entered the game knotted with the Atlanta Thrashers and New York Rangers for the final playoff spot in the East. The Canadiens have won five straight games against Los Angeles, which has lost consecutive games for the first time since a three-game slide from Jan. 7-11.

''Every point is big for us,'' Gionta said. ''The standings are what they are, so we can't sit back at all. We need to control our own destiny going down the stretch.''

Anze Kopitar scored his 30th goal in his 300th NHL game, while newcomer Fredrik Modin cut the deficit to 3-2 at 7:40 of the third period. But Plekanec sealed the deal with an empty-net goal with 1:11 remaining.

The Canadiens wasted little time getting on the scoreboard, as Gionta beat Jonathan Quick (21 saves) just 22 seconds into the game for his 19th goal of the season. But the Kings tied it before the first intermission, as Kopitar put a backhander past Halak for his 10th goal in 12 games.

"We've got to definitely get better," Kopitar said. "Our starts have got to be better than it was tonight."

Moore, acquired from Florida on Feb. 11, restored Montreal's lead when he scored shorthanded 4:43 into the second period. With Jaroslav Spacek in the box for hooking, Moore took a pass from Andrei Markov and fired a slap shot from 40 feet that beat Quick to make it 2-1. It was Moore's second goal in five games since the trade.

''We were more desperate tonight than they were,'' defenseman Roman Hamrlik said. ''That's the way we have to play every night.''

Pouliot made it a two-goal game when he scored just 36 seconds into the third. With the teams at even strength, Pouliot one-timed a feed from Gomez past Quick for his 15th goal of the season.

"We had four power-play opportunities through the end of the second period," Kings coach Terry Murray said. "It's critical you take advantage of it, and we don't."

Kings Hall of Fame TV play-by-play man Bob Miller was too ill to work the game, the first one he's missed since Nov. 2, 2002. Miller has called all but 18 games in his 37 seasons with the franchise. Former Kings forward Jim Fox filled in for Miller.

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

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