MONTREAL - Montreal Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau thinks his club is well prepared for when the games start to actually mean something.
Tomas Plekanec scored his team-high fourth goal of the pre-season and Cristobal Huet made 30 saves as the Canadiens downed the Boston Bruins 3-2 Thursday night in front of a sellout crowd of 21,273 at the Bell Centre.
"We saw some good things, in the first 30 minutes I really thought we had the advantage, especially in scoring chances," Carbonneau said. "We're pretty close, I thought the last two games we played a solid 60 minutes. We've worked on things, and we see they're working."
Alex Kovalev and Andrei Markov also scored for the Canadiens (4-3-0), who travel to Ottawa on Saturday for their final game of the exhibition schedule.
Marco Sturm and Andrew Ference scored, Marc Savard had two assists and Tim Thomas made 23 saves in goal for the Bruins (1-3-1), who play their final pre-season game Sunday afternoon at home against the New York Islanders.
Huet earned his first win of the pre-season and looked sharp in goal for the Canadiens, making a nice pad stop on Aaron Ward during a third period power play to preserve Montreal's one-goal lead.
Carbonneau said he may diverge from his original plan of allowing Huet to go the distance in goal over the final two games of the pre-season in order to allow one of the two contenders for the backup position - Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak - to get a period of work in Ottawa on Saturday.
"We might play (Huet) 30 to 40 minutes in Ottawa and then put the next goalie in," said Carbonneau.
Montreal scored its fifth power play goal of the pre-season, and though they produced chances, last year's most efficient unit in the league still has a long way to go to compensate for the loss of departed free agent Sheldon Souray and his big shot from the point.
The Canadiens managed only one shot when presented with a 5-on-3 advantage for 1:08 in the first and they are now 5-for-45 on the power play in the pre-season, but Markov saw improvement, especially in the way Montreal moved the puck in the offensive zone.
"I think it's starting to work," he said. "All of our guys had their chances to get their goals, we just have to put the puck in the net."
One guy who had more than his share of chances was Mark Streit, who is filling the spot once occupied by Souray on the first power play unit. He obviously does not have the same booming shot as Souray, but Streit's mobility makes him a dangerous a partner for Markov.
"If me or Markov play left or right, it doesn't matter," Streit said. "We're all over the place, and that makes us tougher to defend."
Canadiens rookie defenceman Ryan O'Byrne - on the bubble for a spot on the blue-line - had a difficult game. His second penalty of the game early in the third gave Boston a two-man advantage, and Sturm danced around him easily in the second period to force Huet into a tough save.
With Boston ahead 1-0 after the first, Kovalev and Markov scored 1:14 apart early in the second to give Montreal the lead.
Kovalev pounced on a Streit centring pass that bounced off Bruins defenceman Matt Hunwick to score his second of the pre-season at 4:20 of the second.
Michael Ryder then came out of the corner with the puck and fed Markov in the slot, who beat Thomas with a wrist shot to the top corner for his first of the pre-season at 5:34.
Plekanec made it 3-1 at 12:38 on the power play, grabbing his own rebound and sliding it through Thomas' legs.
"This is only the pre-season and I don't want to get too excited, it's not a big deal," said Plekanec, who has scored all four of his pre-season goals against Boston.
The Bruins made it 3-2 before the end of the second when a Mikhail Grabovski neutral zone turnover led to Ference's goal on a long slapshot from the blue-line for the defenceman's first of the pre-season at 18:02.
Despite the rookie mistake, Carbonneau was still pleased with Grabovski's game centring a line with Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn.
"He made a mistake in the second that no one on the bench liked, but he came back strong," Carbonneau said. "He'll make more mistakes, but he brings some flair on offence."
The Bruins scored first at 18:32 of the first when Sturm finished a nice passing play from Savard and Phil Kessel for a power play goal.
Notes: The Canadiens didn't dress defencemen Roman Hamrlik, Josh Gorges and Patrice Brisebois (groin), and forwards Kyle Chipchura and Garth Murray. Carbonneau said Brisebois will play his first game of the pre-season Saturday. . . . Markov and third-year winger Chris Higgins wore the assistant captains' "A" on their jerseys. Carbonneau confirmed after the game that Higgins is all but guaranteed of having on "A" on his shirt this year. "Chris has been a really good player for this team and I think he's ready for that challenge," he said. . . . Montreal's penalty-killing, a weak point in the second half of last season, improved to 38-for-41 in the pre-season. . . . Boston captain Zdeno Chara and winger Brandon Bochenski, among others. . . . The Bruins play their first five regular season games on the road, while the Canadiens play their first three on the road. . . . Price dressed as Huet's backup.