Canadiens beat Sabres 7-4 to strengthen hold on final playoff spot

Canadiens beat Sabres 7-4 to strengthen hold on final playoff spot
With the win, the Canadiens have 87 points and they moved three points ahead of the idle Columbus Blue Jackets in the battle for the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. But the Blue Jackets, who are in Vancouver Sunday, have a game in hand. The Canadiens are two points behind Carolina in the battle for the first wild-card spot and they face the Hurricanes in Raleigh Sunday (7 p.m., SN, RDS, TSN 690 Radio).

After falling behind 1-0 in the first period, the Canadiens raced to a 3-1 lead in the second period, only to see it evaporate in a 1:16 span late in the period. Alexander Nylander cut the lead to one with a power-play goal at 14:53 and Marco Scandella tied it at 16:08. That goal was on Jonathan Drouin, who coughed up the puck after entering the Buffalo zone.

Montreal regained the lead late in the period when Carter Hutton stopped Jordan Weal on a 2-on-1 rush but Paul Byron scored off the rebound. Brendan Gallagher scored midway through the third period with his second goal of the game, and his career-high 33rd of the season proved to be the winner after Jack Eichel scored at 13:13, seconds after the Canadiens killed off a double minor penalty to Andrew Shaw. Max Domi scored a power-play goal late in the period to give Montreal a cushion and Tomas Tatar marked his 500th NHL game with an empty-netter to cap a three-point night.

The Canadiens got on the board at 5:09 of the second period and the goal came from an unlikely source as Artturi Lehkonen redirected a pass from Shaw. It was the ninth goal this season for Lehkonen, who followed the puck into the net, but it was only his second goal in the last 43 games. The goal represented a milestone in team history as goal No. 22,000.

Gallagher gave the Canadiens a 2-1 lead when he scored at 9:12. Phillip Danault deserved the lion’s share of the credit on the go-ahead goal. He went into the corner and took the puck from Buffalo’s prize rookie defenceman Rasmus Dahlin. Danault then lunged after the loose puck and he stretched out on the ice and used one hand to sweep the puck out to Gallagher in the slot.

Shaw made it 3-1 when he went upstairs on Hutton, with Domi picking up his second assist of the night.

The Canadiens outshot the Sabres 12-8 in the first period but trailed 1-0 after Sam Reinhart scored at 12:42. There seemed to be mixup on the Canadiens’ defence as Reinhart was allowed to skate into the slot without a challenge. Carey Price got a piece of the shot as it went through his pads but it trickled through for Reinhart’s 19th of the season.

Each team had a power play in the first period and it’s interesting to note that the Montreal penalty-killers managed one shot on goal while the power play didn’t come close to putting a puck on net.

The Canadiens recognized Josh Gorges on the scoreboard during the first period. Gorges finished his career in Buffalo after playing eight seasons with the Canadiens. Gorges, who travelled from his home in Kelowna to participate in the Canadiens’ fantasy camp, was a solid defender who also served as a leader in the room. Josh and his wife Maggie served as Gallagher’s billet parents during Gallagher’s first few seasons in Montreal.

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