MONTREAL (AP) _ Michael Ryder helped the Montreal Canadiens gain a slim
margin in the tight Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Ryder had a goal and an assist, and Montreal jumped over the New Jersey
Devils into sixth place in the conference with a 3-2 victory Saturday night
over the Stanley Cup champions.
The Canadiens earned a win and a tie in the home-and-home series with the
Devils that began Friday night in New Jersey.
``It was a big weekend for us,'' said Canadiens defenseman Sheldon Souray,
who played both games after missing the previous 17 because of a knee injury.
The teams are even with 90 points, but Montreal is ahead in the standings
because it has won two more games.
``We just managed to capitalize on our opportunities, and we played really
well defensively, also,'' Ryder said.
New Jersey has seven games remaining, and Montreal has six left.
``You've got to tip your hat to Montreal, they beat us this weekend,''
Devils center Scott Gomez said. ``It was a good series but we've just got to
move on. They're flying high right now and now we've got to catch them.''
Ryder scored his 23rd goal in the second period and assisted on Jim Dowd's
third-period goal against Martin Brodeur, who failed to earn his 400th NHL win
for the second straight night.
John Madden scored a short-handed goal to draw New Jersey within 2-1
following Dowd's goal.
``I think the key to the game was them scoring the first goal,'' Madden
said. ``I think if we had scored the first goal, we probably would have won
that game. Both teams rely on scoring the first goal and shutting down a little
bit, especially with the goalies at both ends.''
Canadiens goalie Jose Theodore stopped 33 shots, including Patrick Elias'
breakaway chance with less than three minutes remaining to keep Montreal ahead.
``He usually doesn't miss too many of those,'' Brodeur said of Elias.
``That's one thing I tell Patty, make the goalie make the save, and that's what
he did. He made a good shot and Jose made a great save.''
Alex Kovalev scored into an empty net for his first goal in five games with
the Canadiens before the Devils made it 3-2 when Sergei Brylin scored with 35.5
Montreal is unbeaten in four games and has lost just once in regulation in
14 games (11-1-1-1).
``We have to give some credit to ourselves,'' Canadiens captain Saku Koivu
said. ``We've played well against the good teams, and a lot of nights it's been
tight right until the end but we've been finding the way to win the games.''
The Canadiens, who missed the playoffs last season, moved within one point
of clinching a postseason berth for just the second time in six years.
New Jersey also needs one point to qualify for the postseason.
Ryder, who leads NHL rookies with 59 points, opened the scoring 7:34 into
the second when he took the puck and moved off the right boards to fire a quick
shot past Brodeur.
Dowd got his sixth goal at 6:30 of the third when Ryder's shot deflected off
him and into the net.