MONTREAL (AP)—The Montreal Canadiens missed a chance to play their final game without playoff pressure.
Chris Drury and J.P. Dumont scored early in the third period and Ryan Miller made 43 saves to lift the Buffalo Sabres to a 4-2 win over Montreal on Saturday night, denying the Canadiens a chance to wrap up a playoff spot.
Montreal, which hasn’t been to the postseason in consecutive seasons since 1996-98, needs one point in its season finale Tuesday against New Jersey to clinch its second straight trip to the playoffs.
“I’m not worried about it,” said Canadiens coach and GM Bob Gainey, who fired Claude Julien on Jan. 14 and replaced him behind the bench. “We’ve been in this mode for six, eight weeks and we haven’t been able to stretch ourselves away from that line that’s drawn between the eighth and ninth team, and so we’re always capable and we’re always vulnerable.”
The Canadiens, who have lost three of five following an eight-game winning streak, also will qualify if Atlanta fails to win both of its two remaining games, or if Tampa Bay loses to Washington in regulation in its final game Tuesday.
“We’re still trying to win games,” Montreal defenseman Sheldon Souray said. “We’re not trying to rely on other teams to get us in. I mean obviously any way we get in we’re going to be happy with but we had it right there to do the job for ourselves and we let it slip away.”
Silenced after Buffalo leading-scorer Maxim Afinogenov got his 22nd goal midway through the first, the Bell Centre crowd of 21,273 came to life late in the second when Michael Ryder and Mike Komisarek scored goals 45 seconds apart to put Montreal ahead 2-1.
Drury tied it at 2 with a short-handed effort 4:37 into the third, putting Mike Grier’s 2-on-1 pass into an open net.
“It was huge. We didn’t hear a peep after that, the only things we heard were on our bench and it just gave us the momentum back and we never looked back after that,” said Dumont, who restored the Sabres’ lead at 6:48 as he slipped into the slot among three Canadiens to take Daniel Briere’s pass and beat David Aebischer for his 18th goal.
Teppo Numminen added an empty-net goal late.
Buffalo is locked into fourth spot in the Eastern Conference. The Sabres will host either Philadelphia or New Jersey in the opening round of the playoffs.
Aebischer, who stopped a penalty shot by Dumont with 1:32 remaining, made his second start in a row and stopped 26 shots, ending a personal four-game winning streak.
The Swiss goalie’s strong play of late leaves Gainey with a difficult choice between Aebischer and Frenchman Cristobal Huet, who has recorded each of his seven shutouts since Feb. 4 after he took over the starting job from Jose Theodore.
“Both of us want to play so we’re going to see what happens,” Aebischer said.
Afinogenov got his own rebound to open the scoring 10:20 in. He cut in front of the net, moving past Komisarek to fire a low shot on net. Aebischer kicked out his right leg to make a pad save but the rebound went right to Afinogenov, who put the puck into a gaping net.
Ryder scored his 30th goal on a power play 17:52 into the second to tie it.
Moments later Tomas Plekanec stripped the puck off Miller behind the Sabres’ net and fed a pass into the slot to Komisarek, who drove the net and fired a quick shot past Miller to give Montreal the lead.
Afinogenov extended his points streak to six games. He has three goals and nine assists during that stretch. … Ryder is the first Canadiens player to reach 30 goals since Richard Zednik scored a career-high 31 in 2002-03. … Montreal has sold out each of its 40 home games.