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Canadiens win; Jets out of playoff race

The SportsXchange

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- The Montreal Canadiens will enjoy home-ice advantage when the NHL playoffs get started next week.

The Winnipeg Jets, meanwhile, are going home.

David Desharnais scored two third-period goals, his 10th and 11th goals of the season, to lead the Canadiens to a 4-2 victory over the Jets on Thursday night.

The victory clinched a top-four spot for the Canadiens (28-14-5) in the tight Eastern Conference. Montreal has 61 points for fourth place and a four-point lead on the Toronto Maple Leafs (26-26-5). The teams play Saturday night in Toronto.

"I'm sure everybody in Montreal is happy about that. (Home ice) can be huge in the playoffs," said Canadiens blue liner P.K. Subban, who registered two assists. "We're happy about it.

"It's a huge confidence-builder. First of all, we've got a two-hour plane ride and it's going to feel a lot better, rather than going to Toronto after losing ... "

The Habs also kept pace with the Boston Bruins (28-13-5) in the race for the Northeast Division title. The Bruins, who beat Tampa Bay 2-0 on Thursday, have a game in hand. The division winner gets second place in the conference.

Montreal, trailing 2-1 after the second period, had lost two straight and five of its last six before rallying.

The Jets, the first team to have played all 48 of their games in the lockout-shortened season, finished 24-21-3 and ninth in the conference.

Canadiens captain Brian Gionta said the team did a tremendous job wearing the Jets down.

"You stick with a system," he said. "You're relentless on the puck, creating turnovers and it pays off. It's a big win against a desperate team."

Montreal goalie Carey Price, who stopped 23 shots for his 21st win of the year, echoed those sentiments.

"We had an excellent work ethic," he said. "The defensive corps played very well, our forwards were pushing back, allowing our defense to stand up, making my job easier. That's the kind of game we've been looking for. That's the style of hockey that makes us successful."

The Jets had their playoff hopes dashed as they sat in the dressing room between the second and third periods. The Carolina Hurricanes couldn't hold a lead and lost 4-3 in overtime to the New York Rangers, and the Ottawa Senators knocked off the Washington Capitals 2-1 in overtime, officially eliminating the Jets from the race for the final playoff spot.

Deflated, they came out and quickly blew a 2-1 lead in the third period, surrendering three straight Montreal goals, including two Desharnais.

Rene Bourque and Brendan Gallagher also beat Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who stopped 26 shots.

James Wright and Blake Wheeler scored for Winnipeg, who led 1-0 and 2-1 at the period breaks.

Winnipeg made a late charge in April, winning six of their last eight games, including a streak of 5-0-1 at home, before losing 5-3 to the Capitals in Washington on Tuesday.

But they fell short of cracking the playoffs for the second straight year since the franchise moved from Atlanta to the Manitoba capital.

"I'm sick of it. I'm sick of going home right now, and I think we have a lot of guys that are sick of it," said Wheeler, who scored his team-leading 19th goal. "I'm going to have a hard time drawing any positives when you're going home and you're watching the important hockey being played from your couch again. That's going to be tough to swallow.

"Hopefully, we can all look in the mirror and make a change. I think we're on the right path, but ninth place is a first-class ticket home again."

Both Pavelec and Jets captain Andrew Ladd acknowledged during postgame interviews they were aware the Rangers and Senators had both won in overtime.

"We knew after the second we were out, so it was a tough game. We knew the result," Pavelec said. "It's not an excuse, but it's tough to play when you know you have 20 minutes left in the season and you've got nothing to play (for)."

There's still plenty to be decided in the final three days of the NHL regular season.

The Senators, Rangers and New York Islanders all have 54 points, but Ottawa has two games left while the New York clubs each have one game remaining. The Islanders lost 2-1 to Philadelphia on Thursday night.

NOTES: The Canadiens won the two previous matchups between the clubs this season (4-3 and 4-1), both at Bell Centre in Montreal. ... Subban, a candidate for the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman, was loudly booed by Jets fans every time he touched the puck Thursday night. ... Ladd will post the best points-per-game average by a player with the Jets franchise in four seasons. Ladd came into the game with 46 points (18 goals, 28 assists) in 47 games, good for a 0.98 P/G average. He was 15th in league scoring after Wednesday's action. ... Jets blue-liner Dustin Byfuglien played his 450th career game Thursday. ... Pavelec ranked second among NHL goalies in shots against (1,221) and saves (1,106) entering the game. ... Price has struggled lately. He arrived in Winnipeg with just one win in his last six starts, registering a save percentage of .838 and a 3.67 goals-against average during that time.
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