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In the Habs Room: A gutsy win, but Montreal gains no ground in playoff battle

In the Habs  Room: A gutsy win, but Montreal gains no ground in playoff battle
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The Canadiens put in a solid 60-minute effort to beat the Winnipeg Jets, but they finished the night where they started — on the outside looking in.

Carolina remained in the first wild-card spot with 93 points after beating Philadelphia 5-2, while Columbus defeated Nashville 5-2 to hold the second spot. Montreal and Columbus are tied in points with 92, but the Blue Jackets have the edge because they have played one fewer game.

“We didn’t make any glaring mistakes,” said coach Claude Julien. “There are always going to be some mistakes, but they were small ones we could correct.”

Montreal could have used more offence. They scored only two goals on 43 shots before Jordan Weal potted an empty-netter, but they limited Winnipeg’s chances and generally made things easy for Carey Price until Mathieu Perreault’s goal midway through the third period gave the Jet’s some life. Price had to make three big saves down the stretch, including a game-saving stop on Bryan Little’s wraparound attempt in the final two minutes.

Julien shortened his bench over the final nine minutes of the game and that’s why the third line — Weal, Joel Armia and Jonathan Drouin — was protecting the lead at the end of the game.

“I thought Armia played well in Columbus and he was obviously very good tonight. Jo was skating well and Weal did a great job in the middle,” Julien said. “We cut down to three lines in the last nine minutes and we needed a fresh line out there and I felt confident they could do the job. Sometimes you have to trust your instincts and trust the people who have done the job from the start.”

Armia, who started his NHL career in Winnipeg, said it felt strange to be in the visitors’ dressing room, but he seemed right at home as he scored a power-play goal and had two other Grade A chances.

As for Drouin, he failed to collect a point for the 21st time in his last 23 games, but he played well enough to earn Julien’s trust. After averaging a little more than 12 minutes a game over his last five starts, he was on the ice for 17:57 Saturday. Max Domi and Andrew Shaw were the only forwards to see more ice time.

Weal was promoted to the third line when Julien elected to give rookie Jesperi Kotkaniemi a rest and he was outstanding. He won 13 of 21 faceoffs for a 68-per-cent success rate. In addition to his empty-net goal, he had an assist when he won the faceoff that led to Armia’s goal.

Captain Shea Weber said one of the keys to the win was a disciplined approach that didn’t allow the Jets to go on the power play.

“They have the third- or fourth-best power play in the league and we knew we couldn’t give them an opportunity with the extra man,” Weber said.

There were some off-ice developments as the result of upsets in the NCAA tournament.

The Canadiens are pursuing centre Ryan Poehling, whose top-ranked St. Cloud State team was upset by American International College in first-round action Friday. Poehling, who was the Canadiens’ first-round draft pick in 2017, has a year of eligibility remaining, but the Canadiens feel he’s ready to turn pro.

And Sportsnet is reporting goaltender Cayden Primeau, a seventh-round choice in 2017, will forego the final two years of his collegiate career at Boston’s Northeastern University. Primeau has developed into one of the top goaltenders in U.S. college hockey, but his season came to an end Saturday with a 5-1 loss to Cornell.

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