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Habs blank Flyers, move into sixth

by Adam Kimelman
PHILADELPHIA -- Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good, but on Friday night, Montreal Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak was both.
Halak stopped all 35 shots he faced -- including 14 in the third period -- as Montreal took a 1-0 decision from the Philadelphia Flyers in what was a must-win for both teams in the crowded bottom half of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
"Especially in third period, the puck was all over me," Halak said. "I was lucky but we'll take it."
With the win -- just their second in their last seven games -- the Canadiens vaulted past the Flyers and into sixth place in the conference with 84 points.
"It's a playoff game," Canadiens forward Brian Gionta said. "There's no doubt. We were tied in the standings and each game is huge."
The Flyers, who also lost Thursday at the Islanders, fell for the seventh time in their last eight games, and next face the red-hot Detroit Red Wings in Sunday's nationally-televised NBC Game of the Week. They now sit eighth in the East, falling behind the idle Bruins. Both teams have 82 points, but Boston has played one fewer game.
Brian Boucher, who was pulled in the third period of Thursday's 6-4 loss to the Islanders, rebounded with a strong game, stopping 22 of 23 shots, but he dropped to 6-8-2 in games where he's allowed two goals or less.
"We played a good game," Boucher said. "I don't see there's anything to be really discouraged about other than the fact that we didn't get the result we wanted."
There was little he could do to stop the lone goal in Friday's game. Andrei Kostitsyn beat Philadelphia's Mike Richards and Matt Carle in a puck battle behind the Philadelphia net, but when Richards had a chance to clear the puck, he whiffed on it. Kostitsyn got the puck back and fed a quick pass to Plekanec in front, and he one-timed his 24th goal of the season past Boucher at 9:25 of the first period.
That goal was all Halak needed.
"He was great," defenseman Hal Gill told "He made all the little plays that he needs to make. He was on the puck all night. There were some funny bounces, and that can be tough to handle as a goalie, and he was on top of it all night."
Moments after Plekanec's goal, Halak gloved an Arron Asham attempt on a breakaway, and in the second he snapped his pads closed to deny James van Riemsdyk on a shot from in close, and again on a breakaway.
He was at his best in the third period, when the Habs were outshot 14-3, and the only puck that got past him was waved off. With the Flyers on a power play early in the third, a Richards pass out of the corner was tipped in the air and van Riemsdyk knocked it in, but the goal was immediately disallowed as it was ruled van Riemsdyk's stick was above the crossbar when he touched the puck.
While it may have been a little too exciting at times, Halak was happy to see all the pucks flying at him.
"Not in the first period, but the second and third I was a little more busy," he said. "It kept me in the game. I'm lucky again, but we'll take it."
Coach Jacques Martin wouldn't commit to Halak starting Saturday when the Canadiens host the Buffalo Sabres, saying he would decide Saturday whether Halak or Carey Price would start.
"We'll decide tomorrow who's in net," Martin said. "Definitely Jaro was outstanding tonight."
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette couldn't find much fault with how his team played.
"Tonight we were tight defensively. I don't think we gave up more than six quality scoring chances the whole night," he said. "Offensively it was just a press the entire 60 minutes. I'm sure they (the players) are frustrated. It's frustrating for everybody. You play a game like that, you expect to win, take the two points with you. That's what's disappointing tonight."
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