MONTREAL – Looking at the NHL standings has become a lot more fun for the surging Montreal Canadiens.
Sergei Kostitsyn scored twice as the Canadiens won their season-high fifth straight by downing the Boston Bruins 3-2 on Saturday night.
Andrei Markov also scored and Dominic Moore had two assists for the Canadiens (35-29-3), who strengthened their hold on an Eastern Conference playoff spot by moving seven points up on the ninth-place New York Rangers.
“Every morning we see the board,” said Markov, referring to the magnetic board that shows the conference standings in the Habs dressing room. “It’s always nice to see that board after you win and either you stay in the same position or you’re going up.”
The Canadiens have gone up from eighth to seventh in the East over the course of the current streak, tying the sixth-place Flyers with 76 points but still slotted below them because Philadelphia has played three fewer games. The Rangers, 10th-place Tampa Bay Lightning and 11th-place Atlanta Thrashers all have games in hand on the Canadiens, but even winning all of those games would not allow them to catch Montreal.
“It’s a great feeling, but we can’t stop right now,” Markov said. “We have to realize we have to keep going. We have 12 games left and we have to play the same way.”
Blake Wheeler and Milan Lucic scored for the eighth-place Bruins (30-25-12), who are four points back of Montreal but still have three games in hand.
The Bruins only have three regulation time losses in their past 13 games, but two of them have come at the hands of the Canadiens.
“The way Montreal’s been playing thus far, we didn’t put a full 60-minute effort in,” Lucic said. “I think that’s what hurt us.”
Jaroslav Halak has won every game on the Canadiens current streak, stopping 21-of-23 shots Saturday. No save was more important than Halak’s post-to-post stop on Marco Sturm to preserve a one-goal lead with just over four minutes to play in regulation.
“I saw the guy coming backdoor and I just tried to push as hard as I could,” Halak said. “I did, it hit me, and it stayed out.”
Halak admitted he had a difficult game in his last start, a 5-4 shootout win over the Edmonton Oilers, but he was happy coach Jacques Martin gave him a chance to bounce back instead of opting for Carey Price.
“The last game wasn’t my best one, but we won the game at the end of the night,” Halak said. “I’m very happy the coach showed me that confidence, and I didn’t let him down.”
Tuukka Rask made 24 saves for the Bruins, but he misplayed a routine dump-in early in the third period, allowing Kostitsyn to score what turned out to be the winning goal.
Rask took full blame for the play, but said the notoriously lively Bell Centre boards played a part in it as well.
“I think I misread it,” Rask said. “To me, it seems like it came off the boards faster than before it hit the boards. It’s tough when your goalie makes a mistake like that.”
It was Kostitsyn’s third goal in the past two games, more than doubling his season total to five.
The Canadiens jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, making it the second time in 14 games the Bruins allowed the first goal of the game.
With Mark Stuart in the penalty box, Markov got his fifth of the year at 6:02 when his harmless looking wrist shot from the blue-line got tipped past Rask by Bruins defenceman Dennis Seidenberg.
Markov was also the catalyst for Montreal’s second goal, heading behind the net with the puck before going against the grain to pass it back to Sergei Kostitsyn, who tapped it in for his fourth of the year and second in two games.
The Bruins cut the deficit in half early in the second when former Canadien Michael Ryder streaked down the left wing and found Wheeler rushing to the net for his 16th of the season at 1:12.
There was a blindside hit thrown by Andrei Kostitsyn on Lucic late in the second period, as Lucic was hit just after sending the puck into the corner and never saw Kostitsyn coming. Kostitsyn was called for interference on the play, while Lucic also drew a roughing minor for retaliating.
“It was a straight hit to the head,” Lucic said. “I didn’t feel it touch any part of my body except the head. That’s why I was fuming and I responded to it.”
Sergei Kostitsyn re-established Montreal’s two-goal margin early in the third, pouncing on Rask’s gaffe and putting it in the empty net for his fifth of the season at 1:41.
Lucic brought Boston back to within a goal at 11:46 with a long wrist shot that sailed past a screened Halak for his seventh of the season.
Sturm had Boston’s best chance to tie it late when Mark Recchi set him up in close, but he couldn’t beat Halak.
Notes: The Bruins played their fifth of a seven-game road trip, their longest in six years. Boston is 2-2-1 on the trip so far. . . Paul Mara was a healthy scratch for the Canadiens, while RW Michael Cammalleri (knee) and D Marc-Andre Bergeron (knee) remain out. . . The Bruins were missing C Marc Savard (concussion), RW Miroslav Satan (groin) and D Andrew Ference (groin). . . The Canadiens improved to 21-9-3 this season when Markov is in the lineup. They are 14-18-3 when Markov isn’t dressed.