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Montreal officially in the playoffs

by Brian Compton

The Montreal Canadiens officially clinched a playoff spot Monday night with their 7-5 victory over the Ottawa Senators. WATCH: Senators-Habs video
Some random thoughts while Michel Therrien recovers from the Pittsburgh Penguins' performance Monday night:

They're In – OK, we've known for a few weeks now the Montreal Canadiens were a playoff team.

But the Habs officially clinched a playoff spot Monday night with their 7-5 win over the Ottawa Senators at the Bell Centre. It marks just the fourth time in the last nine seasons the Canadiens have reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Now, Montreal needs to determine where it finishes in the Eastern Conference. Combined with Pittsburgh's 4-1 loss to the New York Islanders on Monday, the Canadiens increased their lead in the East to three points. They have five games remaining in the regular season.

"It's a big credit for all the players here," Montreal defenseman Francis Bouillon said. "It's a big surprise – nobody was expecting that from the beginning of the season and we worked pretty hard all season long to be there. Tonight was a great victory for us."

Meanwhile, it took a six-goal deficit for the Sens to awaken from a coma worse than Steven Seagal's in Hard To Kill. Ottawa scored four unanswered goals in the third period, but still fell to 5-6-1 since Bryan Murray replaced John Paddock as coach.

"We've still got some games left," Senators forward Jason Spezza said. "If we win five of the next six, then we'll have some momentum going in. It all depends how you look at it, but we know we have to get better, and we know we can't give up early goals to teams. It's no time to panic. We just have to get things going a little bit."

The Avalanche stopped their four-game losing streak with a 2-0 win over the Calgary Flames last night. Flames-Avs highlights
That's More Like It Joel Quenneville must have breathed a sigh of relief Monday night, even if only for a moment.

Desperate for a win, his Colorado Avalanche finally put forth a 60-minute effort. His players hit everything in sight. They forechecked. They came out of the corners with pucks on their sticks.

Because of that (along with stellar play from Jose Theodore), they snapped a four-game losing streak and increased their lead on the Edmonton Oilers to three points and the Nashville Predators to four in the heated Western Conference postseason race with a 2-0 win over the Calgary Flames at the Pepsi Center.

''I thought it was a business-like game,'' Quenneville said. ''Our defensive game was rock solid. Jose was excellent as well, several key stops at critical times. Our power play contributed with a timely goal. Across the board we paid attention to detail and were efficient in checking.''

The win pulled the Avs within two points of second-place Calgary in the Northwest Division, and just three behind Minnesota. While there are only a handful of games remaining, Colorado still has an outside shot at a division title. That would be huge for the Avs in the postseason, since they now are 24-12-2 on home ice.

''We know that the teams behind us are pushing, and it's important we keep our position," said Avs forward Ryan Smyth, who notched his 600th career point in the victory. "The only way we do that is taking care of our own destiny and taking matter into our own hands.''

A Long Night On Long Island – On a night when the Pittsburgh Penguins could have distanced themselves a tad from the New Jersey Devils in the Atlantic Division, coach Michel Therrien's club was a no-show in a 4-1 loss to the New York Islanders.

Islanders goalie Wade Dubielewicz stops a shot during the third period last night against Pittsburgh.
Now the Pens find themselves in a crucial game against the Devils at the Prudential Center on Tuesday night. Thanks to Monday's loss, the Pens remain only two points ahead of New Jersey.

''Really, really disappointed with the performance,'' Therrien said. ''I'm speechless about their effort, I'm speechless about their concentration and their will to win this game.''

Jordan Staal concurred.

''We obviously weren't on our best game,'' the Pens' forward said. ''We just came out flat. We were a little sloppy. There is no excuse for it. We should've been ready for this game, and we weren't.

"It's a lot nicer that we don't have to think about this game too long before our next big game comes up. We're going to learn from this mistake and hopefully we'll be ready for a big game (Tuesday).''

If they're not ready, things could get ugly in the Garden State. I'm thinking Ivan Drago-Apollo Creed ugly.

It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over – The Edmonton Oilers could care less if you're under the impression they won't make the playoffs.

The Oilers continue to live another day, as Andrew Cogliano scored twice Monday night in an impressive 5-3 win over the Minnesota Wild at Rexall Place. While Edmonton remains three points behind Colorado, the Oilers did move ahead of the idle Nashville Predators for ninth in the West.

"These are tough games. If somebody goes on a stretch in the last five games where they only win a game, then even the top teams are vulnerable." - Oilers coach Craig MacTavish
Simply put, there's no quit in this team.

"The bottom line is that it could be anybody that falls," Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said. "These are tough games. If somebody goes on a stretch in the last five games where they only win a game, then even the top teams are vulnerable. It's unlikely, but this whole thing has smacked of unlikely-ness right from the outset. Something strange is going to happen."

The strangest part of Monday night was watching the Wild give up three goals in the game's first 5:02. The always-candid Jacques Lemaire was less than pleased with his team's performance.

"It didn't look good, eh?" the Wild coach asked reporters after Minnesota's third loss in four games. "It didn't look good from behind the bench, either. We were not ready to play. Period. Not ready to play. We played a little bit in the third because some of the guys were upset and they had to do something. We probably had the record for turning the puck over tonight. I didn't count it, but we probably had the record."
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