MONTREAL — Andrei Markov doesn't talk a lot or smile that often when he meets with the media but this time the Montreal Canadiens veteran couldn't help himself.
The 38-year-old scored two goals and set up another by defence partner Shea Weber as the Canadiens downed the Ottawa Senators 3-1 for their third win over their rivals in an eight-day span on Saturday night. The wins prevented the Senators (41-24-8) from overtaking the Canadiens (42-24-9) for first place in the NHL's Atlantic Division.
"Tonight I just had opportunities to shoot," said Markov. "I closed my eyes and shot."
A week earlier, the Canadiens led Ottawa by a single point as they headed into back to back meetings. Montreal won the first one in overtime and dominated the second.
But during the week that followed, the Canadiens lost twice at home while Ottawa posted big wins over Boston and Pittsburgh, leaving the teams in the same situation — Montreal up by one point and Ottawa with a game in hand — going into Saturday night's contest.
Again, the Canadiens came out on top.
"It's a big team win," said Markov. "The last couple of games we didn't play good enough, so we brought our focus back.
"Sometimes those things happen. You win a couple of games and you relax a bit. There's no time to relax now."
Special teams made a lot of the difference as the Canadiens scored twice with the man advantage while Ottawa went 0 for 3. Montreal goalie Carey Price also came up big as the Senators had a 32-24 shot advantage.
"I thought we created quite a bit tonight," said Senators forward Zach Smith. "Price had to make a few sprawling saves.
"As long as we're getting the chances we can still be positive around here."
And they are not out of the hunt for the division lead even if they are now three points back of Montreal.
"It's fun to have a kind of mini series with them, but it hurts to come up short," said Smith. "The last two were tough, especially when we're so close in the standings and we're fighting for that first spot. But we've been resilient all year. We're still in a very good place. We're still positive. We're looking forward to a chance to meet them again, whether it's the playoffs or next year."
Jean-Gabriel Pageau scored for Ottawa.
The Senators controlled most of the play and outshot Montreal 11-6 in the first period but the Canadiens emerged with the lead when Weber blasted in his 17th of the season from the left point during a power play at 9:28 after Erik Karlsson was sent off for holding.
Montreal turned the tables in the second and Markov walked in from the left point and drilled a shot past Craig Anderson at 1:13.
Karlsson's pass into the middle of Ottawa's zone was picked off by Markov for a blast from the slot on a power play at 5:55. It was the 38-year-old Markov's first two-goal game since Jan. 11, 2014. He even celebrated, mimicking a swordsman sheathing his weapon after the goal.
"I was happy," he said. "My boy had a birthday on Monday and I guess now I don't have to go to the store to buy a present for him. I'm going to give him a puck from tonight."
Mike Hoffman made a clever move at the Montreal blue-line and fed Pageau for an off-speed shot that fooled Price at 12:11. It was Pageau's seventh goal in 15 career games against the Canadiens.
Anderson played his 500th regular season game (235-181-55).
With Marc Methot (finger) and Viktor Stralberg (upper body) out, Fredrik Claesson moved in as Karlsson's defence partner. Mark Stone returned after seven games with a lower body injury.
Nathan Beaulieu and Dwight King returned to the Montreal lineup replacing Brandon Davidson and Andreas Martinsen.
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press