MONTREAL - Tomas Plekanec and the Montreal Canadiens are creeping closer to the NHL Eastern Conference-leading Ottawa Senators.
Plekanec had two goals and an assist as the Canadiens downed the Senators 4-3 on Tuesday night and moved to only one point back of the slumping and injury-struck Senators.
"At the start of the year, nobody liked us but now we are where we are," said Plekanec, whose line with Alex Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn has been Montreal's offensive motor for most of the season. "We can't get overconfident.
"They came back from 4-1 to make it close. We helped them a bit because we stopped skating. But it's not that we played bad, they worked hard and we had a couple of breakdowns."
Kostitsyn and Mark Streit also scored for Montreal (29-16-9), which has won five of its last seven and 12 of its last 17. They meet the Senators again Saturday in Ottawa.
Chris Kelly, Jason Spezza and Antoine Vermette scored for Ottawa (32-18-4), which lost a third game in a row and has only three wins in 11 games since star winger Dany Heatley went down with a shoulder injury. Both Heatley and captain Daniel Alfredsson, who sat out with a hip flexor, are expected back by the weekend.
"We tried to play patient and smart, but basically, that's the kind of game Montreal played," said Ottawa coach John Paddock. "Without two of our top players, we tried to play more that way.
"If we keep playing like that, we'll win the hockey game."
The Senators had won six straight games, including three this season, against Montreal, outscoring the Canadiens 25-12 in that span.
Now they have Montreal threatening to knock them out of top spot in the East.
"We're definitely looking up and that's where we want to be," said defenceman Mike Komisarek. "The team is playing with a lot of confidence, especially the Kovalev, Kostitsyn, Plekanec line.
"Now the hype starts for Toronto here on Thursday. It'll be bedlam, chaos, at the Bell Centre, so we'll have to be ready."
A concern is that after blowing a 3-0 lead to lose 5-3 to the New York Rangers on Sunday, the Canadiens nearly did it again as they let Ottawa back into the game after taking a 4-1 lead 10 minutes into the second period.
"It seems that teams are gunning for us now," added Komisarek. "Teams will be better prepared for us now.
"They'll bring their A-game. You can't get too confident."
Montreal was caught on a line change as Randy Robitaille sent Spezza in alone to deke Cristobal Huet at 2:42 of the third, and Joe Corvo's wrist shot on a power play found its way through heavy traffic and went in off Vermette at 7:46 to make it a one-goal game.
Francis Bouillon swept the potential tying goal off the Montreal line moments later and the Canadiens managed to hold on despite being outshot 12-4 in the third and 29-26 overall.
The Senators got what they wanted - the first goal - as Vermette stole the puck from Bouillon beside the Montreal net and the rebound of his sharp-angled shot went to Kelly in front for a shot into an open side 2:42 into the game.
Kostitsyn parked in front of the Ottawa net to tap in a Plekanec pass on a power play at 12:11 and Plekanec completed a tic-tac-toe play on a rush with Kostitsyn and Kovalev at 15:51 for Montreal.
Streit's harmless-looking long shot during a line change went through a crowd and beat Martin Gerber 8:14 into the second frame and Plekanec banked a shot in off Gerber from the side of the net on a power play at 10:00.
Montreal captain Saku Koivu was benched until the final minute after taking an offensive zone hooking penalty early in the third period.
And Ottawa's Chris Neil sent a message for the rematch on Saturday as he took a roughing penalty for punching Andrei Markov as time expired.
Ottawa plays at home against Florida on Thursday night.
Notes(at) - Canadiens defenceman Roman Hamrlik missed the game with a flu while Michael Ryder was a healthy scratch for a second game in a row and a seventh game this season. . . Alfredsson, Heatley and Patrick Eaves remain sidelined for Ottawa, while defenceman Chris Phillips returned from a flu.