Montreal beats Leafs to keep dream of first place alive
Canadiens need a win by Philly on Sunday to take the Eastern Conference
Christopher Higgins scored twice to lead the Montreal Canadiens to a 3-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night, keeping alive his team's chance of being first overall in the Eastern Conference.
With 104 points, the Habs are two up on Pittsburgh having finished their regular season play. Penguins close out with Philadelphia on Sunday and a victory would give them top spot and home ice advantage throughout the East playoffs.
Mark Streit had the other goal for Montreal, while Mark Bell replied for Toronto.
Leading 2-1 into the third period, Higgins made it a two-goal margin on a power play at the halfway mark, taking a pass right in front at the back end of a nice three-way play. It was his 27th of the season.
The game had been scoreless through 31 minutes before Montreal finally scored on Andrew Raycroft, making his second start since mid-January.
Streit took a pass at the point and fired one in that just ticked off Boyd Devereaux's stick a smidge, redirecting the disc enough to Raycroft's right that it sailed by him about 18 inches off the ice and it was 1-0.
Five minutes later, Higgins broke down the right side, took an outlet pass and broke over the Leaf blue-line. Glancing up for an open spot, he rifled a wrist shot that went up and over Raycroft's glove hand on the short side to make it 2-0 at 14:03.
Toronto coach Paul Maurice immediately called a timeout and it seemed to pay dividends, as the Leafs tightened up a bit, eventually getting a good chance of their own at the other end.
Mark Bell, playing his last NHL game before reporting to a Santa Clara, Calif., jail to serve a six-month sentence for drunk driving and hit and run, scored his second in two games.
Kris Newbury sent a nice backhand from behind the net out to Bell, who had snuck in to the slot behind the defence, and he beat Carey Price to make it 2-1.
Toronto's top scorers Mats Sundin and Nick Antropov did not play for a Leaf club that has missed the playoffs three seasons in a row.
Montreal captain Saku Koivu, meanwhile, is expected to get more X-rays on his broken foot on Monday and it looks like his availability for next week's opening of the playoffs is doubtful, said Ron McLean of Hockey Night in Canada.