The Red Wings (37-26-14) strengthened their hold on the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with a 3-2 victory over Buffalo on Friday, moving them three points clear of Columbus. Darren Helm, Tomas Jurco and Daniel Alfredsson all scored in a 9:39 span of the first period for Detroit, but coach Mike Babcock wasn't thrilled with the final 40 minutes as the Sabres made a game of it.
''To me, I thought we started really good, we were all over them,'' said Babcock, who got his 413th win for Detroit, tying him for the all-time franchise record with Jack Adams.
''I thought suddenly we had some skill and suddenly we were dangling around with the puck and now we had the cute-itis going and then we didn't want to shoot it in the net,'' he said. ''We wanted to pass it one more time and the next thing you know it's game on instead of just doing things simple and hard and right.''
Detroit also welcomed back star center Pavel Datsyuk after a 16-game absence due to a knee injury. He had one shot on goal and didn't register a point in nearly 18 minutes of ice time, but he did win 11 of 13 faceoffs as Detroit swept its three-game homestand and matched a season high with its fourth straight win.
Alfredsson, who assisted on Jurco's goal, has four goals and six assists in his last 10 games. The veteran forward has two assists in three games versus Montreal this season, and his 107 points in 92 lifetime games against the Canadiens are his most against any team.
Montreal (44-27-7), which is fighting Tampa Bay for home-ice advantage in the first round, took a two-point lead over the Lightning in that quest with four games remaining after storming by Ottawa 7-4 on Friday despite being outshot 43-23.
The Canadiens dug themselves a 3-0 hole 5:50 into the game but responded with seven consecutive goals - including a hat trick by Max Pacioretty, who added two assists for his first career five-point game. It was the ninth win in 11 games for Montreal, which has scored 33 of its 39 goals in that span at even strength.
''Obviously you look at the shots and we got some favorable bounces and that's just the way it goes some nights," said Pacioretty, whose 38 goals are a career high and leave him two shy of becoming the first 40-goal scorer for Montreal since Vincent Damphousse had 40 in 1993-94.
Pacioretty, who has seven goals and three assists in his last five games, snapped a 3-all tie in the most recent meeting with Detroit on March 27, a 5-4 Montreal victory. Tomas Plekanec scored two goals in that game and Thomas Vanek added a goal and two assists for the Canadiens, who dropped the previous two games between the teams this season.
Canadiens defenseman Douglas Murray will serve the second of his three-game suspension for his hit on Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mike Kostka.