Lalime earns career-high 37th win

MONTREAL (AP) -- The Montreal Canadiens quickly reverted to their
losing ways after a one-year return to the playoffs.

Patrick Lalime made 30 saves for his career-high 37th win of the
season and the Ottawa Senators extended their lead in the race for
the NHL's top record with a 3-1 victory Saturday night that
eliminated the Canadiens from playoff contention.

It was the fourth time in five years the Canadiens will miss the

Montreal made the playoffs last year with a seven-game
winning streak, capped by a home victory over Ottawa on April 9 in
Saku Koivu's first game back from cancer treatments.

Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson said these were not the same

"The biggest difference is last year at this time they had a
lot to play for," Alfredsson said. "This year, they've had a
really tough season and it's not even close confidence-wise, and
you can tell.

"When things aren't going well and you don't have the
confidence, you can make the hard look even harder sometimes."

Brian Pothier, Bryan Smolinski and Jason Spezza scored for
Ottawa, which ended a two-game winless skid and set a franchise
record for wins in a season.

Ottawa has a league-leading 107 points, with three games left.

"It would be really nice, we're definitely pushing ourselves
for it," Alfredsson said of the race for home-ice advantage
throughout the playoffs. "I think that's a good motivator for us
going down the stretch.

"We know if we can keep winning we'll have enough points, so
that's what we want to do."

Koivu scored for the Canadiens, who had never missed the
playoffs four times in any five-year span in the franchise's 86
years in the NHL. Their previous worst was missing the postseason
four times in seven seasons from 1919-20 to 1925-26.

Koivu's 19th goal gave him a career high in points with 68. The
injury-prone Finn has played in every Canadiens game, something he
hasn't done since his rookie year in 1995-96. But he's far from

"A player has a good year if his team makes the playoffs,"
Koivu said. "In my case, the Canadiens didn't make the playoffs. A
player takes his pride from making the playoffs."

Jose Theodore made 21 saves for Montreal, extending his career
low with his 31st loss.

The Canadiens opened the scoring 23 seconds into the second
period when Koivu surprised Lalime with a snap shot from the high

Ottawa replied 89 seconds later when Peter Schaeffer left the
puck for a wide-open Smolinski, who had an open side for his 21st.

Chad Kilger then guided Chris Neil toward Theodore, and Neil
continued into the goaltender before Pothier scored from a sharp
angle at 6:56 of the second. Theodore immediately skated over to
complain to referee Marc Joanette.

"I went to the net hard," Neil said. "I just tried to stay in
front and set a screen and Pothier did a good job of getting it on
the net."

Spezza clinched the win with 2:54 left in the third when he
converted Jody Hull's pass for his seventh goal.

The game marked the first time the Hossa brothers -- Ottawa's
Marian and Montreal's Marcel -- played against each other in the
regular season. Their mother attended the game.

"I think she was more nervous than we were," said Marian

Game notes
The Senators were without D Curtis Leschyshyn (ankle), C
Mike Fisher (shoulder), C Shaun Van Allen (kidney stones), D Anton
Volchenkov (shoulder) and Rob Ray (healthy). ... Canadiens tough
guy Gordie Dwyer returned to the lineup after missing five games
because of a concussion. ... Senators LW Peter Schaeffer had to
leave the ice after he was cut when he took a high stick from
Canadiens captain Saku Koivu near the end of the first period.
Koivu was not penalized, and Schaeffer returned for the start of
the second. ... Montreal D Patrice Brisebois was regularly booed
whenever he touched the puck.