OTTAWA -- The Montreal Canadiens have been waiting a long time to return to the top of their division, almost their rookie goalie's entire life.
Carey Price made 32 saves for his third shutout and Alexei Kovalev scored his 35th goal as Montreal claimed its first division title in 16 years with a 3-0 win over the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night.
Price, who improved to 22-12-3 overall, was four years old when Montreal won its last division title in 1991-92. The 20-year-old has started 13 of 17 games since he became the Canadiens' No. 1 goalie when Cristobal Huet was sent to Washington at the trading deadline.
"I think everything that we've thrown at him, he's responded very well," coach Guy Carbonneau said. "He did the same thing in junior, he did the same thing last year in the American (Hockey) League, he seems to get better when the pressure's on and the games are important."
The Canadiens are tied with Pittsburgh atop the Eastern Conference. However, Pittsburgh has the tiebreaker by virtue of its 45 wins -- one more than Montreal -- with two games remaining for both. The Canadiens can finish no lower than second in the conference.
"We achieved a lot, 100 points, first in our division, I don't think we thought about it in September," Carbonneau said. "With two games to go first in our conference is still there, so, why not?"
Ottawa, which also has two games left, remains in sixth place in the East with 92 points, though there is suddenly a very real danger that last year's Stanley Cup finalists could miss the playoffs for the first time in 12 years.
"Obviously we're frustrated and you look at the standing and wonder how and why it's happened, but it's too late to look back," Senators center Jason Spezza said. "You've got to look forward now."
The Senators have a one-point lead over Boston and Philadelphia, who currently hold the final two playoff spots in the conference. Ottawa is also only two points ahead of ninth-place Washington. The Bruins, Flyers and Capitals each have three games left to play.
Martin Gerber made his 15th straight start for the Senators, stopping 24 shots.
Kovalev opened the scoring during the ensuing 5-on-3 advantage. The Russian right wing lifted a backhand over Gerber at 9:24 for his team-leading 35th, the most goals by a Canadiens player in 12 years.
"I don't know about those stats," said the 35-year-old Kovalev, who is enjoying his best season since 2000-01 with Pittsburgh, when he had career highs with 44 goals and 51 assists for 95 points. "It's always nice but for me it's important to help and get the two points, not as much my own stats."
Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov got his first career fighting major for his bout with Spezza with 9.8 seconds remaining in the first.
Dandenault made it a 2-0 lead 5:28 into the second when he beat Gerber with a wrist shot from the left faceoff circle for his ninth goal.
Kostitsyn sealed Montreal's surprising run to the division title with his 26th goal on a power play 11:22 into the third.
"We played really well in our end," Price said. "I thought our neutral zone was really well-played. We didn't let them skate through us very much and we made them dump the puck in and got it out."
The Canadiens' last first-place finish was in 1991-92, when they led the Adams Division with 93 points in 80 games. The longest Montreal had previously gone between first-place division or league finishes in an NHL regular season was eight years, from 1919-20 to 1926-27, and again from 1947-48 to 1954-55.
- Montreal reached 100 points for the 16th time overall. It is the Canadiens' first 100-point season since 1992-93, when they finished third in their division with 103 points before going on to win their 24th Stanley Cup, their 23rd as a member of the NHL.
- The Senators relocated approximately 25 fans in Scotiabank Place's upper level to a suite because water was leaking onto their seats from the ceiling.
- Kovalev became Montreal's first 35-goal scorer since 1995-96, when Pierre Turgeon and Vincent Damphousse tied for the team lead with 38 each.