Canadiens 5, Sabres 1

BUFFALO -- The Montreal Canadiens are heading back to the playoffs.

After missing out on the postseason last year, the Canadiens clinched a playoff spot with an impressive 5-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres Thursday night at the First Niagara Center.

Rene Bourque, Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban scored for the Canadiens, who improved to 26-9-5. Peter Budaj had 14 saves.

Ryan Miller had 28 saves for the Sabres before giving way to Jhonas Enroth at the start of the third period. Enroth had nine saves.

Buffalo's late playoff surge is all but over with the Sabres falling to 16-19-6. Buffalo is six points out of the final playoff spot in the East with seven games remaining.

Montreal also jumped ahead of Boston for the Northeast Division lead with 57 points -- though the Bruins have played one fewer game.

The Canadiens jumped out to a 2-0 lead after a dominant first period in which they outshot the Sabres 15-7.

Montreal's first goal came at 6:43 in the first on Rene Bourque's sixth goal of the season. Brian Gionta originally received credit for finishing a 3-on-1 rush, but the goal was later credited to Bourque after Gionta's shot deflected off Bourque's skate.

The Canadiens took a 2-0 lead at 9:33 on Galchenyuk's sixth goal of the season. Galchenyuk put home a rebound in front of the Buffalo net after Miller stopped Michael Ryder's backhand shot.

Montreal increased its lead to 3-0 at 4:36 of the second period. Gallagher collected a rebound in front of the Buffalo net and wrapped it around Miller's left pad for his 12th goal of the season.

Andrei Markov's power play blast from the point made it 4-0 with 2:06 remaining in the second period. Markov's shot deflected off Sabres forward Brian Flynn and over Miller.

Brian Flynn ended Budaj's shutout 6:45 into the third period with a shorthanded goal.

Subban made it 5-1 on the power play with 2:41 remaining.

NOTES: Montreal forward Jeff Halpern played in his 900th NHL game. The 13-year veteran has also played for the Washington Capitals, Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning, Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers. ... Ville Leino (upper body) and John Scott were scratched by the Sabres. ... Tomas Kaberle, Gabriel Dumont, Mike Blunden, Ryan White, Yannick Weber and Alexei Emelin were scratched by the Canadiens. ... This was the fifth and final meeting between the Sabres and Canadiens this season. ... This was the 258th game all-time between Buffalo and Montreal. Buffalo leads the series with a 119-102-37 record.