Canadiens six points out of Northeast lead

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) -- Stellar goaltending and timely goals got
the Montreal Canadiens through the last two games. They're going to
need more of the same to get through the playoffs -- especially if
they don't improve defensively.

Saku Koivu, Richard Zednik and rookie Michael Ryder had a goal and an assist apiece, and the Canadiens strengthened their hold on a playoff berth with a 5-2 victory Monday night over the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

"We have to be realistic and realize that we didn't play our
best hockey of the year in these last two games," Montreal coach Claude
Julien said. "We had teams with their backs against the wall that
came out hard at us, and we didn't respond that well.

"I thought our team got better as the game went on tonight,
especially in the third period. But these are the kind of
situations we're going to be facing from now till the end of the
year. And if we're going to be in the playoffs, these are the kinds
of games we're going to be playing. So we might as well realize it
soon enough and start doing things to make us better."

Jose Theodore, back in the nets after a 46-save outing by backup
Mathieu Garon on Saturday night in Los Angeles, stopped 36 shots.
Pierre Dagenais and Steve Begin also scored to help Montreal win
for the eighth time in nine games. Patrice Brisebois and Mike Ribeiro had two assists each.

"I thought their goaltender was phenomenal," Anaheim coach
Mike Babcock said. "They could be scary in the playoffs if they
get goaltending like that."

The victory put the Canadiens within a point of the defending
Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils for sixth place in the
battle for one of the eight Eastern Conference playoff spots.

Montreal remains six points behind Ottawa in the four-team race
for the Northeast Division title -- which would automatically give
it one of the top three seeds in the conference playoffs. The
Canadiens, who have won a record 23 Stanley Cups, haven't finished
first in their division since 1991-92.

"We have to aim as high as we can," Theodore said. "The team
has been playing well, and now we're in the final stretch, so the
points are really important. Lately we've been finding ways to win
games, but we have to play tighter defensively if we're going to
have success in the playoffs."

Rob Niedermayer and Petr Sykora scored for Anaheim, and
Jean-Sebastien Giguere made 19 saves in his 200th game with the
Ducks. Leading scorer Sergei Fedorov was scratched because of the
flu and Mike Leclerc missed his fifth straight game because of a
sore left knee.

Zednik put Montreal ahead at 14:45 of the second period with his
team-high 24th goal and fourth in three games. He broke into the
Anaheim zone with a lead pass from Koivu and slipped the puck
between Giguere's legs.

Dagenais added his 15th goal with 11:24 to play, converting a
rebound of Ribeiro's wrist shot after Giguere had trouble
controlling the bouncing puck.

Ryder, who leads all rookies with 53 points, tipped in a long
wrist shot by Brisebois with 5:17 remaining for his 20th goal and a
4-1 lead while Vaclav Prospal was off for high-sticking.

The Canadiens were outshot 17-5 by Anaheim in the first period --
after allowing 18 shots in each of the last two periods of Saturday
night's 4-2 victory against the Kings. Nierdermayer opened the
scoring at the 4:53 mark, converting a rebound of Keith Carney's
slap shot from the top of the left circle.

Koivu tied it at 17:34 of the first, streaking down the slot a
step ahead of Niedermayer and redirecting Zednik's perfect
cross-ice feed from the left boards for his 13th goal.

The Ducks didn't go on the power play until Darren Langdon was
sent off for interference -- and hooking -- with 4:10 left in the
second period. But the Ducks came up empty during the next four
minutes and heard it from the crowd of 14,997 as they left the ice
at intermission.

"We played hard," Joffrey Lupul said. "Everybody was jumping,
everybody was skating, but Theodore was great. As good as we
played, our power play was terrible. Sergei wasn't here -- but even
if we don't score, we've got to generate more chances."

Game notes
Zednik joined Dagenais and Ribeiro as the only Montreal
players this season to score in three straight games. Ribeiro did
it twice. ... Canadiens LW Chad Kilger, chosen first overall in the
1995 draft by Anaheim, was a healthy scratch for the 13th time in
17 games. Kilger has no points in 27 of his last 28 games. The only
exception was Jan. 10, when he had a goal and an assist at
Pittsburgh. ... Giguere, born in Montreal, is 1-2-1 in four career
starts against the Canadiens. ... The Ducks are 1-for-31 on the
power play against Montreal in their last eight meetings dating
back to the start of the 1998-99 season. ... Anaheim is 59-78-22-6
against the NHL's "original six" teams.