Series (Game 5 of 5)

Ottawa leads 3-2

Game 1: Saturday, October 26th
Game 2: Thursday, November 21st
Game 3: Monday, December 16th
Game 4: Friday, December 27th
Game 5: Saturday, March 29th

Senators 3

(49-21-1, 107 pts)

Canadiens 1

(28-34-9, 73 pts)

7:00 PM ET, March 29, 2003

Bell Centre, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

1 2 3 T
OTT 0 2 13
MTL 0 1 01

M. Havlat (Senators - RW): Goals: 0, Assists: 0

Z. Chara (Senators - D): Goals: 0, Assists: 0

J. Theodore (Canadiens - G): Saves: 28, Save Pct.: .903

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

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 postseason.

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 Canadiens.

"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 satisfied.

"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 slot.

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 Hossa.

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.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press