MONTREAL – Even when it goes to a shootout, the Montreal Canadiens can’t seem to help beating the Boston Bruins.
Saku Koivu scored the only goal in a shootout as the Canadiens made it a perfect eight in a row this season against the Bruins with a 3-2 victory that kept them in first place in the NHL Eastern Conference on Saturday night.
Montreal (42-24-10) holds a one-point lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins (43-25-7), who have a game in hand, for first place in the conference. And the Canadiens widened the gap to five points over Northeast Division rival Ottawa, who they face on Monday night at the Bell Centre.
Andrei Markov and Andrei Kostitsyn scored in regulation time for Montreal (42-24-10), which has won 11 consecutive games over the Bruins dating back to last season.
“We played well against them, we got eight wins against them and 16 points which is huge for us,” Koivu said. “But you look at some of the teams we have problems against like Ottawa. It happens. But we’ll take these wins.”
Their 94 points is the most they’ve earned in a season since they had 96 in 1993-94, the year after the last of their 24 Stanley Cup triumphs.
“It’s nice,” added Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau. “If we miss the playoffs now, it would take a total disaster.
“The important thing is to keep improving and get to that 82nd game (of the regular season) in good position and playing well on offence and defence.”
Marc Savard and Petteri Nokelainen scored for the Bruins (37-28-10), who earned their first point in eight games against Montreal this season to move into a tie with Philadelphia for seventh in the conference, both with seven games to play.
“It shows we can stay with these guys now,” said Boston goalie Tim Thomas. “I thought we’d get over the hump, but we got the point and we’ll take every point we can get.”
All three Boston shooters were stopped by Carey Price, while Koivu beat Thomas on Montreal’s third and final shot of the shootout.
“I got a good piece of it and I was hoping it was trapped under my pad, but the crowd here lets you know,” said Thomas. “To add insult to injury, I stepped on the puck as I was leaving the ice.”
It was Montreal’s first game without first-pair defenceman Mike Komisarek, who learned earlier Saturday he would be out for the final two weeks of the regular season with a lower body injury, but youngster Josh Gorges was solid in logging 25:14 of ice time in his absence.
Gorges had the best chance of the overtime period when he broke in alone but Thomas made the save.
“It’s always tough without Mike in the lineup, he’s a big physical presence and puts a little bit of fear into the opposition forwards,” Gorges said.
“But there are injuries and it’s part of the game. The rest of us have to step up and play bigger roles.”
The Bruins started the game with their heads in the clouds, as Thomas went to his bench on a delayed penalty call only to have to dash back when he discovered it was against his own team, and later Boston took a too many men on the ice penalty during a power play.
Montreal took advantage by opening the scoring at 2:20 on some fine passing by Sergei Kostitsyn that left Markov open for a blast from the top of the left circle.
Savard tied it at 8:36 when he caught Price napping and went around the net to stuff in his 15th of the season and end a 15-game goal-less drought.
Andrei Kostitsyn put in Mark Streit’s rebound just after a power play ended to put Montreal back in the lead at 9:49.
The Bruins outskated Montreal in the second frame and Nokelainen went to the net to tip Mark Stuart’s pass over Price to tie the game 2-2 at 9:33.
Notes: Montreal swept a 10-game season series with Boston in 1944-45. . .Mark Streit played his 200th career game. . . Mathieu Dandenault and Patrice Brisebois were healthy scratches while Guillaume Latendresse sat out with neck spasms for Montreal. . .Peter Schaefer was scratched for a fourth straight game and Vladimir Sobotka also sat out for Boston, which is missing Andrew Alberts and Patrice Bergeron with concussions and Bobby Allen with a sore back.