MONTREAL -- The Montreal Canadiens got a huge contribution from their captain and staved off a comeback attempt by the NHL's top team.
Koivu scored 3:22 into the third, coming off the bench and intercepting
"He's a great player," Canadiens defenseman Sheldon Souray said. "He reads the play very well and he was anticipating that play and was able to pick off a pass and he made a great shot to put it in the top shelf. We really needed that."
Montreal, which ended a five-game winning streak Friday with a 5-2 loss in Ottawa, has won eight of 10 and remains in eighth place in the Eastern Conference with 88 points.
The Canadiens have three games remaining, one fewer than ninth-place Toronto, which trails Montreal by one point.
Buffalo's Dainius Zubrus cut the deficit to one 7:15 into the third with his 15th goal.
"They came back and we knew they weren't going to quit," Souray said. "We made it close at the end but we still managed to stay with it and we were able to get the results."
The Canadiens survived a nervous moment after Drew Stafford kicked a puck off Halak's pad and into the goal from the side of the net at 15:29. Referee Wes McCauley waved off the goal, and the sellout crowd of 21,273 erupted in cheers after a video review confirmed the ruling.
"I didn't know what happened," said Halak, who saw a replay on the scoreboard while the play was being reviewed. "I didn't even know that he kicked it in, but then I saw it on the screen so I was all right after that."
"We had a period of time where I think five out of six rushes we turned it over at the blue line," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "I don't think we were sitting back, I just thought we made some poor decisions when we hit the line."
Buffalo, which has four games left, remained atop the NHL's overall standings with 107 points, one ahead of Detroit and Anaheim. The only teams that can catch them for first place in the East are Ottawa, which has 102 points and three games remaining, and New Jersey, with 100 points and four games left.
"You don't want to wait until the last game to clinch first place, you want to do it right away," Sabres forward Derek Roy said. "Tonight we went out and we wanted to win this game. We didn't let down at all."
Ryder tied it at 1 with his fourth goal in five games 15:33 into the first. Ryder redirected Francis Bouillon's shot from the left point between Conklin's legs and into the net off the goalie's left pad.
"I just went to the net and I think Frankie saw me all the way," said Ryder, who turned 27 Saturday.
Bonk put Montreal up 2-1 6:39 into the second with a backhand past Conklin's left pad and inside the right post off his own rebound for his 13th goal. Lapierre made it 3-1 with his sixth of the season at 8:16.
|Saku Koivu's third-period goal, the 20th this season, turns out to be the winner. (AP)|
|Montreal (41-32-6) «||1||2||1||4|
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|09:20||Daniel Briere (33), Wrist Shot - Assists: Jochen Hecht, Teppo Numminen|
|15:33||Michael Ryder (27), Tip-In - Assists: Francis Bouillon, Mark Streit|
|06:39||Radek Bonk (13), Backhand Shot - Assist: Janne Niinimaa|
|08:16||Maxim Lapierre (6), Backhand Shot - Assists: Alexei Kovalev, Andrei Markov|
|18:59||Thomas Vanek (39), Wrist Shot - Assists: Derek Roy, Drew Stafford|
|03:22||Saku Koivu (20), Wrist Shot - Unassisted.|
|07:15||Dainius Zubrus (24), Snap Shot - Assists: Daniel Paille, Chris Drury|
|05:59||Stafford: Tripping - 2 min.|
|12:58||Markov: Interference - 2 min.|
|04:18||Stafford: Hooking - 2 min.|
|16:29||Dandenault: High sticking - 2 min.|
|SHOTS ON GOAL|
|Attendance - 21273|
|Referees - Wes McCauley, Kevin Pollock|
|Linesmen - Scott Driscoll, Thor Nelson|