MONTREAL -- The Montreal Canadiens were coming off two of their biggest road victories of the season, so it would have been easy to overlook the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday.
For a while the Canadiens did just that, but ultimately they continued a stretch of victories that has them comfortably sitting in a spot to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Max Pacioretty's 100th NHL goal broke a scoreless tie at 10:53 of the third period and helped the Canadiens get a 2-0 win against the Sabres.
The Canadiens (41-26-7) won an important 4-3 game at the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, and then pulled off an emotional 2-1 shootout win at the Boston Bruins on Monday, making the game against the Sabres pale in comparison of importance.
"The whole week before starting on Saturday we were talking about the games in Toronto and Boston, two big rivalry games, especially the game in Toronto that we absolutely needed," said Canadiens forward Daniel Briere, who scored with 3:06 left in the game to make it 2-0. "We win in Toronto, then it's an emotional game in Boston. Tonight was kind of the forgotten game. Nobody really talked about it; it was against the last-place team.
"It seemed like the easy game of the bunch, but actually it was really tough."
Montreal began a run of six wins in seven games with a historic comeback against the Ottawa Senators on March 15, scoring three times in the final 3:22 of regulation and again at 1:26 of overtime to win 5-4.
Since then, the Canadiens have outscored their opponents 18-10 in winning five of six games to move two points ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning for second place in the Atlantic Division, though the Lightning have two games in hand.
"I really believe that every team has those moments at least once in a season. It's how you respond to that, and that's what we've done really well since that game," Briere said of the win against the Senators. "We've used that confidence. We haven't always played perfect games; we had some where we weren't as good. But because of that game, we know that we can somehow always find a way to win. Mentally, I think it's a huge advantage to know that."
Goaltender Carey Price has played a big part in building that team confidence.
Price made 24 saves for his fifth shutout of the season and 24th of his career, but none was bigger than a breakaway stop on Cody Hodgson with 3:20 to play in the third that allowed Montreal to maintain its 1-0 lead. Briere made it a 2-0 game 14 seconds after the big save.
"This is a very important time for us," Price said. "Everybody's trying to make the playoffs and to pick up points against divisional teams and play well is definitely a confidence builder."
Matt Hackett kept the Sabres (20-44-8) in the game by making 33 saves, including stops on the first 31 shots he faced, but could not prevent Buffalo's 10th loss in 12 games.
Hackett, whose uncle Jeff Hackett played 146 games over four seasons with the Canadiens, said it was one of the best games of his young career.
"I think that was pretty special, especially in this arena," Hackett said. "This is a tough arena to play in; the fans are basically right on top of you the whole time. It was a pretty cool experience, and I'll remember it for a long time."
Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers returned from a five-game absence caused by an elbow injury. He left the game at 6:15 of the third period after crashing into the goal post on a 2-on-1 break, but quickly returned.
"He's a little bit banged up," Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. "Hopefully a couple days rest can get him ready for [the] Nashville [Predators]."
Through the first half of the game, the Sabres were skating with the Canadiens, leading 15-14 in shots on goal when Buffalo forward Matt D'Agostini was called for holding and unsportsmanlike conduct at 6:10 of the second period. The Canadiens outshot the Sabres 21-9 from that point.
Nolan was not happy with the lack of discipline his team showed, especially D'Agostini.
"It's those bad penalties again," Nolan said. "One guy goes to the penalty box and bangs [the door] like a 5-year-old child and gets another two [minutes]. So that puts us in trouble. Then we get a couple of other ones for high sticking and reaching from behind, and those are the type of plays that shows you're behind in the play."
Pacioretty scored on a nice setup from Thomas Vanek, tapping in a pass that bounced off Hackett and in for his 32nd goal. His 100th goal came in his 311th NHL game.
Briere made it 2-0 when he fished a puck out of a crowd at the faceoff circle and put a wrist shot under the crossbar at 16:54.