OTTAWA - What a difference seven months make.
Carey Price made 32 saves for his third career shutout and the Canadiens beat the Ottawa Senators 3-0 on Tuesday in a match of teams heading in very different directions.
The win gave the Canadiens (45-25-10) the Northeast Division title, their first since the 1991-92 season, and their first 100-point season since they recorded 102 points in 1992-93.
That's pretty impressive for a team that some predicted would have to fight for a playoff spot at the start of the season.
"There was a lot of questions that were unanswered at the start of September. I knew I had a good team, but not that good," Montreal Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said.
"We achieved a lot. 100 points, first in our division. I don't think it's something we thought about in September. Now with two games to go first in our conference is still there."
The Canadiens are tied for first in the conference with the Pittsburgh Penguins and both teams have two game remaining. The Penguins hold the first tiebreaker with more victories.
Meanwhile, the Senators (42-30-8) who were the class of the Eastern Conference for much of the season, have fallen to sixth place, and though the possibility is slim they could even miss the playoffs.
Ottawa is just one point up on the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers, who each have a game in hand, and only two up on ninth-place Washington.
The Sens have now lost three in a row and five of their past six.
"We know we're in for a battle here. These are important games and we're ready for them we're just not playing very well," said Senators forward Jason Spezza.
"We have to turn things around here for the next two games and get two wins."
Alex Kovalev, Mathieu Dandenault and Andrei Kostitsyn scored for the Canadiens.
Kovalev opened the scoring at 9:24 of the first period as the Canadiens were coming towards the end of an extended five-on-three power play. Kovalev picked up a rebound at the side of the net and put a backhand over a sprawling Martin Gerber in the Ottawa goal.
The Canadiens increased their lead to 2-0 at 5:28 of the second period when Dandenault was allowed to move in alone on Gerber and fire a shot over his shoulder from the edge of the faceoff circle.
Kostitsyn scored on an almost identical play with less than nine minutes to play in the third period as the Ottawa defence backed off while trying to kill a power play. Kostitsyn had plenty of time to pick a hole in Gerber for a 3-0 lead.
"We had a couple of good shifts early put we got some penalties and that's tough to take especially when they score," said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson.
"We've just got to stay positive. We can't pout or feel sorry for ourselves, we just have to make the best of it and have a good day tomorrow and be ready for Thursday."
Price kept his shutout alive when he made a huge glove save off Christoph Schubert in the dying seconds of the third period.
"It was just a reaction, but I found it thankfully," Price said.
"I tried to get out and play the puck as much as I could and think me and my D had good communication out there and everything was pretty smooth."
Notes: The Senators won the season series with the Canadiens with a 5-3-0 record, winning three of four at Scotiabank Place. ... The Senators recorded their 33rd straight sellout and the 36th overall this season. With one home game remaining, they need just 6,021 fans to break the franchise record of 798,453 for total attendance in a season. ... The Senators have been shut out seven times this season, including twice in back-to-back games. The Canadiens have shut out their opposition six times this season.