BUFFALO — The Canadiens assured themselves of a playoff berth as they crushed the Buffalo Sabres 5-1 Thursday night at First Niagara Center. Five different players scored goals and 10 players registered at least one point as the Canadiens outshot the Sabres 41-15.
Back on top: The win enabled the Canadiens to reclaim first place in the Northeast Division and second place in the Eastern Conference. The Canadiens have 57 points, one more than the Boston Bruins, who dropped a 2-1 decision to the New York Islanders.
Earning his keep: Budaj, who signed a two-year contract extension Wednesday, posted his seventh consecutive win. He missed the shutout when Brian Flynn scored a shorthanded goal in the third period but the backup goaltender has picked up 15 of a possible 18 points this season with a 7-1-1 record.
Quick start: The Canadiens outshot the Sabres 15-7 in the opening period and opened the scoring when Rene Bourque connected on the tail end of a tic-tac-toe play at 6:43. Brian Gionta and Bourque combined to take the puck away from Thomas Vanek in the Canadiens' zone and Bourque took off along the left wing. He found Tomas Plekanec at the far side and he dropped the pick to the trailing Gionta, whose shot was tipped by Bourque.
Chucky is smoking: Alex Galchenyuk was standing on Miller's doorstep when he took a pass from Michael Ryder and scored to give the Canadiens a 2-0 lead at 10:27 of the first period. The goal extended Galchenyuk's point streak to five games. He has three goals and three assists in the run.
Answering the call: Coach Michel Therrien said he wanted more production from David Desharnais' line. And he got it when rookie Brendan Gallagher made it 3-0 at 4:36 of the second period. Miller stopped a drive by Desharnais but Gallagher picked up the rebound and dragged the puck beyond Miller's reach.
Something special: The Canadiens' power play, which ranks No. 4 in the NHL, went 2-for-8. Andrei Markov scored at 17:54 of the second period while the Canadiens were enjoying a 5-on-3 advantage. P.K. Subban completed the scoring with a power-play goal at 17:19. The Canadiens only had to kill off two penalties and they have gone seven games without giving up a power-play goal.
What's next: The Canadiens meet the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre Saturday (7 p.m., CBC, RDS, TSN-690 Radio). They're back at the Bell Centre Monday to face the Philadelphia Flyers.
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