Not quite there yet

Saturday, 15.04.2006 / 12:00 AM / News
Montreal Canadiens
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Not quite there yet
Single point still all that separates the Canadiens from clinching playoff spot


Chris Higgins and the Canadiens faced a goaltender at the top of his game in Ryan Miller, Saturday at the Bell Centre.

MONTREAL - Despite firing 45 shots at Ryan Miller, the Canadiens were edged out 4-2 by the Sabres Saturday night at the Bell Centre.

One point continues to be all that separates the Canadiens from a playoff berth, as Montreal remains at No. 7, one point up on the Lightning and four points clear of the Thrashers, who both won on Saturday to keep the heat on the Canadiens.

Leading 2-1 to start the third period, the Canadiens had the chance to put the Sabres away on the a power-play, only to see Chris Drury break in alone on David Aebischer and tie the game short-handed. The Sabres then pulled ahead and never looked back.

"It's obviously a letdown. We had our destiny in our hands and were 15 minutes away from making it to the playoffs," said Mathieu Dandenault. "Shorthanded goals always hurt. They made a couple of great plays, but still, we definitely shot ourselves in the foot and now we'll just have to wait until game 82."

After seeing Ryan Miller kick aside the first 26 shots he faced, the Canadiens finally got on the board on the power-play when Michael Ryder scooped up a loose puck and flipped it over a sprawling Miller with just over two minutes remaining in the second period.

Then only 45 seconds after Ryder tied the game 1-1, Mike Komisarek swooped in from the point and blasted a one-timer past Miller on a nice play set-up by Tomas Plekanec for his second goal of the season.

After winning four straight starts, David Aebischer stopped 26-of-29 shots as he suffered his first loss since March 18 against Pittsburgh. With time winding down in the third period, Aebischer stoned Jean-Pierre Dumont on the first career NHL penalty shot the Swiss netminder has ever faced.

The game's first star, Miller stopped 43-of-45 shots to lead the Sabres to a franchise record 50th win of the season. Also scoring for the Sabres were Maxim Afinogenov, Dumont and Teppo Numminen, who added an empty netter.

With the possibility remaining that the Canadiens' playoff lives may very well hinge on their final game of the season against New Jersey, Bob Gainey believes his players will step up to the challenge.

"I can't say I'm worried about it, after all, we've been in playoff mode for the last six or eight weeks," admitted Gainey. "We just haven't been able to pull away from the rest of the pack, which explains why we remain both capable and vulnerable at this point of the season."

When asked if he will be glued to a TV set Monday night to see whether the relentless Thrashers will falter in Washington to earn his team a ticket to the postseason, Gainey said he would be tuning in. As will all Canadiens fans, who will sign up for the Alexander Ovechkin fan club on Monday for one night only.

Montreal will wrap up the regular season Tuesday night against the Devils at the Bell Centre.

NOTES : The game was preceded by the presentation of the Molson Cup winner for March/April Cristobal Huet and the 2005-06 Jacques Beauchamp-Molson Trophy winner Steve Begin. Begin is a first-time recipient of the award which recognizes the Canadiens' unsung hero as voted on by the local media covering the team. Begin, ironically, was a Canadiens waiver pick-up from the Sabres just prior to the 2003-04 season... Todd Simpson, Aaron Downey and Maxim Lapierre were not in uniform, while Steve Begin (knee) and Francis Bouillon (ankle) remained sidelined... Saturday night's showdown with the Sabres drew a capacity crowd of 21,273, marking the Canadiens' 40th consecutive sellout of the season and 63rd straight overall packed house dating back to 2003-04... Buffalo's Daniel Briere picked up an assist in his 400th NHL game.

Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com