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Habs end regular season with 3-1 win over Leafs, will face Bruins in playoffs @NHLdotcom

MONTREAL - It will be Original Six rivals Montreal versus Boston in the NHL playoffs for a 31st time.

Christopher Higgins scored two goals in a regular season-ending 3-1 victory over the already-eliminated Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.

Coupled with Boston's 3-0 loss to Buffalo, it put the Canadiens into a first-round meeting with the Bruins that begins that Thursday at the Bell Centre.

"I don't want to comment on that yet. I'm still enjoying the end of the season now," said Higgins, who finished hot with five goals in the last six games.

"This is the most fun time of the year to play. Everything is magnified." The win kept alive Montreal's chance to finish first in the Eastern Conference for the first time since 1988-89.

The Canadiens need the Pittsburgh Penguins to earn no more than one point from their final game on Sunday against Philadelphia to claim top spot.

"I'll watch it for sure," said Higgins. "Hopefully Phillie are at their best and we get first place, but even if Pittsburgh wins, we're still happy with our season."

Goaltender Carey Prices added, "We did all we could down the stretch and if it doesn't happen, well, kudos to Pittsburgh."

It will be the third time in their last four playoff appearances that Montreal will open the post-season facing the Bruins, against whom they were 8-0-0 this season.

Montreal's all-time record in playoff series against Boston is 23-7.

"But it's zeros across the board now," cautioned Higgins.

The Canadiens' 104 points is their highest total for a season since they had 115 in 1988-89.

Mark Streit also scored for the Canadiens, who went 8-1-1 in their final 10 games.

Mark Bell scored for the Leafs, who ended the season 36-35-11 and missed the playoffs for a third straight year.

"When you're in the playoff hunt, the season doesn't seem long enough," said Toronto coach Paul Maurice. "You want it to go on forever. When you're not playing for anything, I can't tell you how long it is."

Toronto goaltender Andrew Raycroft had a strong first period, stopping rookie Greg Stewart on a breakaway among his 12 saves, but was beaten on a medium-speed shot from the point by Streit at 9:00 of the middle period that sneaked under his right arm.

"The first goal that beat him was just a matter of him not being in the net," said Maurice.

Streit sent Higgins in on the right side for a wrist shot that went inside the near post at 14:03.

Bell was left alone in front to swipe a pass from Kris Newbury past Price at 18:02.

The Canadiens were on a power play in the third frame when Higgins converted Bryan Smolinski's pass for his 27th of the season with a quick shot at 7:29.

"I want to enjoy this before I think about Boston," said Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau, who will be up against Claude Julien, the man he replaced two seasons ago. "For sure, we played well against them this year, but now everything starts over again."

Stewart played his first NHL game for Montreal and had scoring chances on his first five shifts on the fourth line, but couldn't convert.

"It popped out and I got a breakaway," said Stewart, still shaking with excitement after the game. "I hadn't had a breakaway all year. I got hooked a bit and didn't get a good shot off."

The Canadiens were given Sunday off and report back for practice on Monday afternoon.

Notes: Alex Kovalev got a standing ovation from the 21,273 spectators when presented with the trophy as Montreal's player of the year before the game. Streit got merely enthusiastic applause for getting the unsung hero award. . . Toronto captain Mats Sundin missed a third game with a torn groin, while Montreal captain Saku Koivu sat out a fourth game with a fractured bone in his left foot. Montreal's Maxim Lapierre played his 100th NHL game.

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