Buffalo at Montreal

Sabres eliminated from playoff contention after loss to Canadiens

CBSSports.com wire reports
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MONTREAL -- Bryan Smolinski and the Montreal Canadiens knew the Buffalo Sabres were fighting to keep their playoff hopes alive and used that to their advantage.

Smolinski scored twice, Carey Price came within 8:30 of posting his second straight shutout, and Montreal beat Buffalo 3-1 on Thursday night, eliminating the Sabres from the playoff race.

Chris Higgins opened the scoring with a power-play goal midway through the first and Smolinski added two more goals to give the Canadiens a 3-0 lead.

"They had to go for it and I think they played a little cautious at first and, I won't say they played into our hands but getting the first one was huge," Smolinski said. "It kind of deflated them a little."

Montreal is tied with Pittsburgh atop the Eastern Conference with 102 points. Both teams have one game left but the Canadiens need to finish at least a point ahead of the Penguins to win the conference because Pittsburgh has 47 wins, one more than Montreal.

The Canadiens host Toronto on Saturday night. The Penguins complete their season Sunday in Philadelphia.

"We've got one more game and then we can regroup and get ready," Price said. "One last game to get everything into gear before we hit the crucial time of the year."

Ales Kotalik scored his 23rd goal 11:30 into the third after Sabres coach Lindy Ruff pulled goalie Ryan Miller during a 4-on-3 advantage to give Buffalo two extra skaters.

"We gambled hard to get back in it and we just didn't quite get it done," Ruff said.

The Sabres, who won the Presidents' Trophy last year and went to the conference final each of the last two seasons, needed at least one point to keep slim playoff hopes alive.

"They got the first break and we had to play catch-up," said Miller, who stopped 22 shots.

Buffalo, which has 88 points, completes its schedule Saturday in Boston and is assured of finishing 10th overall in the East.

"You could see their faces after the game," Higgins said. "Obviously, they weren't too thrilled."

Named the NHL's rookie-of-the-month for March, Price made 27 saves and improved his record to 23-12-3 in 40 games. The 20-year-old goalie stopped 32 shots Tuesday as the Canadiens clinched their first division title in 16 years with a 3-0 win in Ottawa.

Montreal struck quickly midway through the first, scoring two goals in 40 seconds to take a 2-0 lead.

Higgins opened the scoring on a power play 11:28 in when he beat Miller for his 25th goal.

The soldout Bell Centre crowd of 21,273 was still celebrating the Canadiens' opening goal when Smolinski made it a two-goal lead with his seventh of the season at 12:08.

The 36-year-old veteran scored his second of the game -- his eighth overall in 63 games -- 14:28 into the second to increase Montreal's lead to three.

Notes

  • The Sabres last missed the postseason in 2003-04.
  • The Canadiens last won a conference title in 1988-89. They finished atop the Wales Conference with a 53-18-9 record and went on to lose a six-game final to the President's Trophy-winning Calgary Flames, the last time the league's Nos. 1 and 2 teams met for the Stanley Cup.
  • Canadiens RW Matt D'Agostini made his NHL debut. D'Agostini, chosen 190th overall by Montreal in 2005, was recalled from Hamilton of the AHL on Wednesday along with LW Gregory Stewart, who did not dress.
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Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller skates off the ice dejected after his team is ousted from the playoff race. (AP)
Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller skates off the ice dejected after his team is ousted from the playoff race. (AP)

Scoreboard
Buffalo (38-31-12)0011
Montreal  (46-25-10) «2103
Three Stars
B. Smolinski
MON


Goals: 2
Assist(s): 0
C. Price
MON


Saves: 27
Save Pct.: .964
S. Begin
MON


Goals: 0
Assist(s): 1
Scoring Summary
1ST PERIOD
11:28Power Play - Christopher Higgins (25), Tip-In. Assist: Mark Streit, Roman Hamrlik
12:08Bryan Smolinski (7), Snap Shot. Assist: Steve Begin, Ryan O'Byrne
2ND PERIOD
14:28Bryan Smolinski (8), Wrist Shot, Unassisted.
3RD PERIOD
11:30Power Play - Ales Kotalik (23), Slap Shot. Assist: Derek Roy, Jaroslav Spacek
Penalty Summary
1ST PERIOD
02:31D'Agostini, 2 min, Tripping
10:03Kotalik, 2 min, Hooking
16:13Streit, 2 min, Holding
2ND PERIOD
11:45Hecht, 2 min, Roughing
19:01Mair, 2 min, Tripping
3RD PERIOD
05:28Kostitsyn, 2 min, Tripping
07:49Lapierre, 2 min, Slashing
07:49Kaleta, 2 min, Diving/Embellishment
09:54Kostitsyn, 2 min, Interference
10:45Stafford, 2 min, Hooking
11:21Brisebois, 2 min, Tripping
18:42Sekera, 2 min, Tripping
19:18Gaustad, 2 min, Roughing
19:18Kovalev, 2 min, Roughing
Shots On Goal
 123T
Buffalo1041428
Montreal108725
Goalies
GoalieMINSSGA
Ryan Miller58:06223
Carey Price60:00271
Power Play Conversions
Power Play
Buffalo1-for-2
Montreal1-for-2
Game Information
Attendance - 21273
Referees - Dave Jackson, Marc Joannette
Linesmen - Tony Sericolo, Brad Kovachik
 
Other Games
Dal 4 Final
Pho 2
SJ 2 Final
LA 4
Cal 1 Final
Min 3
Ott 8 Final
Tor 2
NYR 3 Final
NYI 0
Colu 2 Final
Det 3
Edm 2 Final
Van 1
StL 2 Final
Nash 3
TB 1 Final
Wash 4