OTTAWA — The Montreal Canadiens will take a brief moment to enjoy their 4-3 shootout win over the Ottawa Senators Saturday night, but know they need to be ready to face a hungry team again the next day.
The two will battle once again on Sunday, this time in Montreal, with first in the Atlantic Division on the line.
With the win, the Canadiens (40-23-8) gained a two-point lead on Ottawa (39-23-8), which still has a game in hand.
"We worked hard, we earned that second point," said Brendan Gallagher. "We both want to climb in the standings, it's so tight. They're right behind us and these are two big games this weekend. It's a huge win for us.
"There's a little bit of hatred, a lot of respect and the compete level and the battle level between the two teams is high… It's the same thing every single time you play them, you better be prepared to work or you're not going to get the result you want."
Much has been made of the head-to-head series this weekend, but Ottawa coach Guy Boucher did his best to downplay the hype.
"This is exciting, but that's not the NHL playoffs. It's an important game for points, just like tomorrow's going to be an important game and Boston's going to be an important game. It's not about first place, it's get in, wherever, against whoever and be ready. Right now it's such a tough fight."
In the end Paul Byron and Alexander Radulov scored in the shootout to earn the victory for Montreal.
Andrew Shaw, Philip Danault and Gallagher scored for Montreal in regulation as Carey Price made 28 saves.
Derick Brassard, Ryan Dzingel and Erik Karlsson scored for the Senators as Craig Anderson, who had missed the past two games with a lower-body injury, made 29 saves.
There had been some debate Saturday morning as to who would start for the Senators, as it remained questionable whether Anderson was fit to play.
"I felt I was healed enough to go out there and felt good enough to go play," said Anderson after the game.
Boucher said he has no issue playing Anderson Sunday as long as he feels good enough.
The Senators had a chance to win the game in overtime when Max Pacioretty took a penalty, but were unable to capitalize.
"When you're able to kill that penalty you gain some confidence going into the shootout," said Montreal coach Claude Julien. "The guys were on a high, Carey gave us two big saves and I think you saw Radulov and Byron riding that high."
Trailing 2-1 to start the third, the Canadiens took momentum by scoring twice within 31 seconds.
Danault tied the game as he was able to beat Anderson through the legs at the 6:15 mark — it was Montreal's first shot of the period despite having just come off a power play. Then Gallagher gave the Canadiens the lead, beating Anderson over the shoulder from a sharp angle.
"(Gallagher's shot) got the top of my pad and went in," said Anderson. "You could do that play over and over again and 99 times it won't go in. We'll look at it and have to learn from that and make sure we seal the net there on the edge.
With just under five minutes remaining Karlsson tied the game with a shot from the point.
"(Karlsson) and our guys stepped up to the plate and bounced back for me," added Anderson.
Montreal opened the scoring at the two-minute mark of the second period after a defensive breakdown by Ottawa that allowed Danault to find Shaw all alone at the side of the net.
The Canadiens took advantage of the momentum and held the edge in play until the Senators tied things with a power-play goal at 12:36 as Kyle Turris found Brassard streaking through the slot and was able to beat Price stick side.
Just over a minute later Dzingel gave the Senators the lead as he battled for the puck at the side of the net and was able to squeeze it behind Price.
"We had a little sequence where we were dominated by the Senators, but we were able to regroup," said Julien. "We came back in the third and scored twice to regain the lead. You expect these kinds of things in a game."
Notes: Ottawa D Mark Borowiecki was back in the lineup after missing the last four games with a lower-body injury. RW Mark Stone remains sidelined with a lower-body injury, missing his fourth straight game. Montreal D Alexei Emelin, LW Andreas Martinsen and RW Michael McCarron were healthy scratches.
Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press