BOSTON - First, the Bruins were shut out Saturday night. Then they learned their playoff opponent will be a team they haven't beaten in eight matchups this season.
"Fabulous," defenceman Aaron Ward said. "That's great. It's another challenge presented to this team."
Boston lost 3-0 to the Buffalo Sabres, who got a hat trick from Thomas Vanek and strong goaltending from Jocelyn Thibault. And when Montreal finished its 3-1 win over Toronto later, the Bruins-Canadiens series was set.
Buffalo's win also guaranteed the New York Rangers and New Jersey will meet in another first-round series.
Montreal outscored Boston 39-16 in their eight meetings, seven of them Bruins losses in regulation. But in the last two, Montreal won just 4-2 and then 3-2 in overtime.
"The number that comes to my mind is the last two we played against them," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "I think we played them much better."
Buffalo was the superior team Saturday night when Thibault got his second shutout of the season in his first start since Jan. 21. But the win came too late for the Sabres, who were eliminated from playoff contention on Thursday night in a 3-1 loss at Montreal.
"We spent two days talking about making sure we came to play," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. "That's really not any consolation, winning the game. But winning the game is a positive."
Boston, which clinched a playoff berth with a 2-1 win at Ottawa on Friday night, ended the regular-season with a 4-1-3 record in its last eight games. Last season, the Bruins lost their last six games, went 1-10-1 in their last 12 and missed post-season play for the second straight year.
"Obviously, we didn't play our best game," Shawn Thornton said. "I would have liked to have gone into the playoffs carrying the confidence and momentum."
Vanek scored his 34th and 35th goals in the second period. Derek Roy assisted on the first, giving him at least one point in the last 12 games, the longest current streak in the NHL.
Vanek got the hat trick on an unselfish play by Roy, who could have scored easily into an empty net. But he passed to Vanek, skating a few feet to his left, for his 36th goal with 43 seconds left in the game.
"I never look at goals being a successful season," Vanek said. "I've just got to be more consistent."
Thibault played in place of Ryan Miller, who had started the previous 34 games. With no shot at the playoffs, the Sabres turned to Thibault, who had one other shutout this season, on Nov. 24 at Montreal, and played in just his 12th game Saturday.
"We played probably the best defensive game of the year," Thibault said. "There weren't many shots that I couldn't see."
He was rarely tested as the Bruins had 17 shots on goal. His previous game was on March 12 when he relieved Miller against Pittsburgh.
"Buffalo played a great game," Julien said. "Maybe we didn't have our total focus."
Buffalo took a 1-0 lead 1:01 into the second period when Jochen Hecht backhanded a pass from the right corner behind Boston goalie Tim Thomas and Vanek one-timed the puck in from the slot.
Vanek made it 2-0 at 11:38 of the period. Jason Pominville took a shot from about 40 feet out on the right and Vanek redirected it past Thomas from the edge of the crease.
Now the Bruins must try to beat the Canadiens for the first time this season.
"What's happened in the past isn't going to help anybody," Ward said. "There's a different flavour to the playoffs."
Notes: Sabres D Teppo Numminen played for the first time since having open heart surgery on Sept. 20. It was his only game of the season. ... Boston's leading scorer Marc Savard missed his seventh straight game with a back injury. ... Buffalo ended the season with a 2-4-2 record against Boston. ... The Bruins have won just one playoff series in the last seven seasons. In their last post-season appearance in 2003-04, they lost to Montreal 4-3 in the first round.