The smattering of Montreal fans at Boston's TD Banknorth Garden stood and cheered as the horn sounded to end regulation time. To them -- and the Canadiens -- getting that far was all that mattered.
Mark Recchi's goal 2:42 into overtime Thursday night gave the Bruins a 5-4 victory. But the Canadiens got what they needed just by getting into overtime -- the single point assured the Habs of the last available playoff berth.
"We had some tough times throughout the season and it hasn't been the easiest one," Canadiens captain Saku Koivu said after Montreal's third loss in four days. "But the way we've been playing, the way we've been handling everything that's gone on off the ice, what's happened the last month, I'm really proud of our team."
Montreal and the New York Rangers both have 93 points, two more than Florida -- but both would win tie-breakers against the Panthers, who stayed alive briefly with a 3-2 win at Atlanta. The Habs and Rangers both have one more game, with the Rangers currently holding the tie-breaker because they have 42 victories to Montreal's 41.
None of that mattered after the game.
"We've had an up and down season but we kept it together tonight and stayed in the game," Canadiens coach Bob Gainey said. "Our major objective was to get into the playoffs."
They did -- but not without a scare.
The Canadiens appeared to be in trouble when Recchi scored 5:30 into the second period to give the Bruins a 3-1 lead. But Montreal rallied when Matt D'Agostini sandwiched two goals around a power-play tally by defenseman Mathieu Schneider to make it 4-3 with 3:07 left in the second period.
With Schneider back in the lineup, Montreal scored three power-play goals -- all of which that came as a result of penalties against Boston for retaliation or roughing.
"When we do lose our cool and let our emotions get the best of us, we let them get those goals and grab the lead," said Bruins forward Milan Lucic, who had 18 penalty minutes.
Zdeno Chara tied the game with a power-play goal 5:27 into the third period, and Recchi won it when he came in alone and beat Carey Price.
"From my perspective, it was one of the longest games ever and it didn't even seem like there was much action in my end," Bruins goalie Tim Thomas said.
Unless the Canadiens pass the Rangers, Montreal will be back in Boston next week to start the playoffs. The Bruins won the last five meetings this season after losing the first in a shootout.
Panthers 3, Thrashers 2 | Video | Photos
Florida rallied for two third-period goals to get the win in needed to stay alive -- only to see its playoff hopes disappear when the Canadiens got to overtime in Boston and the Rangers beat Philadelphia.
David Booth's tie-breaking goal with 4:25 left in the third period gave the Panthers a few minutes of hope before the out-of-town results ended their dreams. "You look back for one point throughout the year -- that's hard to take," Booth said.
The Thrashers actually led 1-0 and 2-1, both times taking the lead on goals by rookie defenseman Zach Bogosian. His second goal, 5:42 into the third period, threatened to end the Panthers' hopes. But Cory Stillman tipped Gregory Campbell's shot behind Johan Hedberg 50 seconds later to get the Panthers even again.
Booth won it when he drove out of the right corner into the slot, took a shot that was stopped by Hedberg but popped home the rebound for his team-high 29th goal of the season.
"It's really important that we at least gave ourselves a chance [by winning this game]. We were able to do that," said Florida's Nathan Horton, who scored the Panthers' first goal.
The Panthers haven't made the playoffs since 2000.
"Regardless of what happened tonight I am very proud of how we played and showed up tonight," Florida coach Peter DeBoer said.
The Thrashers lost for the third time in five days.
"They were desperate and they came out on top. It's obviously not what we wanted," said Bogosian, who had a power-play goal and another while shorthanded for the first two-goal game of his brief NHL career.
Sabres 5, Hurricanes 1 | Video | Photos
Like the Panthers, Buffalo had to win and hope for the best. The "win" part worked out fine, as Jason Pominville scored twice to help the Sabres end Carolina's nine-game winning streak. The hope part … not so well. Buffalo came off the ice and watched as the New York Rangers wrapped up a 2-1 win over Philadelphia, ending their playoff hopes.
Pominville scored 5:34 into the game to put the Sabres ahead, then capped a three-goal second period when he beat Cam Ward at 10:13 of the second period. Derek Roy added a penalty-shot goal midway through the third period Eric Staal spoiled Ryan Miller's shutout in the final minute.
"You get (the opportunities), and I think that makes a difference," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "We've had those opportunities in the past, and haven't cashed in. But you get them, and you get them on the road, and you get a team down. We got the bounces tonight."
The Sabres entered the night facing an uphill climb to their first playoff berth since 2007. The needed to beat both Carolina and East-leading Boston while hoping the Flyers would claim regulation victories in both of their season-ending games against the Rangers.
"This was probably one of our better games this year," Pominville said. "We had our backs against the wall. We had to win."
They did, but it still wasn't enough.
The loss cost the Hurricanes a chance to jump into fourth place in the East. They're tied with Philadelphia and Pittsburgh at 97 points, but would need a victory at New Jersey on Saturday and to have the Flyers get no more than two points in their two games this weekend to get the last home-ice spot in the first round.
"In order to stew over something, you have to leave it in the pot for a long period of time," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said after his team's 12-game home winning streak ended. "This one will be out in the garbage and not talked about again."
Penguins 6, Islanders 1 | Video
The Penguins pulled even with the Flyers and Hurricanes by routing the 30th-place Islanders, scoring six unanswered goals after spotting the Isles an early lead.
Evgeni Malkin had two assists to stretch his lead over Alex Ovechkin in the NHL scoring race to four points (112-108) with one game remaining for each.
"One game left, it's OK," Malkin said of the scoring title. "I think it's too much points (for Ovechkin to catch him)."
And if Ovechkin gets four points in his final game, at Florida on Saturday?
"I will score two. I will," Malkin said of the Penguins' season-ending game at Montreal.
The Islanders came out with far more energy than they showed in a 9-0 loss at Carolina on Tuesday -- they took the lead on Frans Nielsen's power-play goal 5:05 into the game. But the rest of the night belonged to the Penguins, as Philippe Boucher tied it at 14:15, Pascal Dupuis and Matt Cooke scored in the second period and former Isles captain Bill Guerin triggered a three-goal third period when he scored at 11:08.
"We want to win as many games as we can," Dupuis said. "The standings are not set yet. We still want the home-ice advantage, so tonight was a big win for us. We had to put our mind to it -- obviously when you clinch already and you play against a team that is last in the league, it's always a little hard to get pumped up for that game, but we seemed to be able to do it in the second and third."
The loss assured the Islanders of finishing last in the overall standings, giving them the best chance at landing the No. 1 overall pick when the Draft Lottery is held on Tuesday. After playing competitively since the All-Star break, they're finishing on a down note, going 2-7-1 in their last 10 games.
"We generated some great chances. I think we hit four posts during the course of the game," Islanders coach Scott Gordon said. "Our guys competed hard, and that’s all we can ask for."
Capitals 4, Lightning 2 | Video
Washington locked up second place in the East as Brooks Laich scored twice to help the Caps beat the Lightning.
"We're definitely proud of our accomplishments, but we haven't done nothing yet," said defenseman Mike Green, who had two assists before scoring his 31st of the season into an empty net with 5 seconds remaining.
Laich broke a 1-1 tie when he got his second of the game at 5:37 of the second period, and Dave Steckel made it 3-1 just 31 seconds later.
Washington, which will play Montreal or the Rangers in the opening round of the playoffs, set a franchise record with 108 points and tied a team mark with 50 wins, matching the 1985-86 Caps.
"I think you've got to rank this team up there with a lot of them," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I think it's quite an accomplishment in today's day and age with the salary cap and all the teams have the ability to be equal. But I think the best team in Capitals history has got to win the Stanley Cup because they've been there and lost it."
The Capitals swept the season series against Tampa Bay and have beaten the Lightning in their last 11 meetings. Despite goals by Steven Stamkos and Matt Pettinger, the Lightning lost their eighth in a row and 11th in 12 games. They ended the season with the NHL's worst home record at 12-18-11.
"We showed some character, came back and made a game of out it," said Stamkos, the No. 1 pick in last June's Entry Draft. "It's been a long season. Hopefully we can learn from this season. Learn how it feels to lose and hopefully not have that feeling ever again."
Devils 3, Senators 2 (SO) | Video
Minutes after clinching its third Atlantic Division title in four years when Philadelphia lost to the Rangers, New Jersey got shootout goals from Zach Parise and Brendan Shanahan to reach the 50-win mark for the first time in franchise history.
Dany Heatley tied the game for Ottawa by scoring with 60 seconds left, beating Martin Brodeur from the slot during a scramble. Second-period goals by Brian Gionta and Brian Rolston had given the Devils a 2-1 lead after Ottawa's Jarkko Ruutu scored the only goal of the first period.
Brodeur stopped Mike Fisher and Jason Spezza in the shootout after Daniel Alfredsson scored on the first attempt. He finished his 998th regular-season game with 28 saves to increase his NHL-record victory total to 556.
"We played a really good road game," coach Brent Sutter said after his team won for the third time in four games after a six-game losing streak. "We played a team that was obviously a different hockey team since the last time we played them, and we expected them to play well. They've had a pretty good run here at home. We needed to play well here tonight for a lot of different reasons, and we did that. It's a big effort by everybody."
The Devils will have the third seed when the playoffs start next week.
"We've taken three of our last four games, and we'll take that positive into our last game on Saturday and get ourselves ready for the playoffs," Brodeur said.
The loss ended Ottawa's team-record nine-game home winning streak. The Senators finished 22-13-6 at Scotiabank Place but will miss the playoffs for the first time since 1996.
"We're disappointed we didn't win the shootout," coach Cory Clouston said. "We definitely wanted to win that game. Not only for ourselves, but for our fans to send them home happy, but unfortunately we lost in the shootout."
Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media was used in this report