It's only January, but the rivalry between the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens has already reached playoff-level intensity.
Zdeno Chara scored a pair of power-play goals and Tim Thomas stopped 24 shots as the Bruins downed the Canadiens 3-1 Tuesday in front of a raucous crowd.
Thomas had told his teammates earlier not to read too much into a regular-season game, even if it was against the rival Habs.
"But when the crowd gets into it like that and the teams play with that much energy, it felt like the playoffs last year," Thomas said. "It was one of the funnest games I've played this year."
Boston is running away from the Eastern Conference one season after barely qualifying for the playoffs.
The Bruins, who haven't won a post-season series since 1999, forced the Canadiens to a seventh game in the first round last year, but have bigger plans this time.
Boston leads the East with 68 points, 11 ahead of Washington and 12 in front of Montreal and the New York Rangers. The attendance of 17,565 was Boston's 11th sellout of the season, and though there were a fair amount of Habs fans in the crowd that just added to the intensity on the ice.
"It was definitely a playoff-type atmosphere," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "I'm glad we had our fans behind us. It was nice to be in Boston for this one."
In other NHL action, Steve Sullivan earned his first NHL point in almost two years as Nashville downed Toronto 2-0; Edmonton beat the Capitals 5-2 for its first win in Washington in almost 12 years; Ottawa ended a five-game losing streak by beating Carolina 5-1; New Jersey overcame a late Vancouver comeback attempt and downed the Canucks 5-3; and Miikka Kiprusoff earned his league-best 26th win as Calgary beat St. Louis 3-1.
Elsewhere, it was: Columbus 4 Colorado 3; Pittsburgh 4 Philadelphia 2; New York Rangers 2 New York Islanders 1; Minnesota 6 Phoenix 3; and San Jose 7 Tampa Bay 1.
At Boston, there was a fight in the scoreless first period and a skirmish in the second when Thomas came to the defence of defenceman Aaron Ward after he was hit from behind by Andrei Kostitsyn.
Ward skated off on his own, but did not return; when Kostitsyn cut in front of the net, Thomas came out of the crease and cross-checked him to the ice. Kostitsyn, who had the Canadiens' only goal, was given a five-minute penalty for boarding and Thomas was assessed two minutes for roughing.
"I'm going to let the league look into that," Julien said. "I guess the big thing with me is it's not the first time this guy has done that. I don't like to see that happening over and over from the same guys."
The Bruins goalie said afterward that he reacted to the sound of the hit, but after seeing the replay it might not have been that bad. Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau thought the referee overreacted, too.
"I don't get the five minutes," he said. "I saw the replay and I didn't think it was a penalty."
But Julien, who has lost phenom Patrice Bergeron in each of the past two seasons to concussions, said he thought his players were tired of seeing their teammates injured by hits from behind.
"We're obviously a little sensitive to that," Julien said.
Jaroslav Halak made 26 saves for Montreal, which had won four straight games and scored five or more goals in each of them. The Canadiens lost in regulation for the second time in 12 games.
The Bruins were without four of their top forwards, losing Bergeron to a concussion, Phil Kessel to mononucleosis, Marco Sturm to a knee injury and Milan Lucic to an undisclosed injury. Chara picked up the slack, scoring on a rebound to tie it in the second period, then adding a go-ahead goal with 1:36 left in the period when his one-timer deflected off the stick of defenceman Andrei Markov and into the net.
It was Chara's eighth career two-goal game.
Thomas is 9-1 in his past 10 starts. He helped protect a one-goal lead in the third when he stopped Tom Kostopoulos with his right pad with just under five minutes left, then used the full extension of his glove to stop Kostitsyn with 2:16 to play.
Predators 2 Maple Leafs 0
At Toronto, Steve Sullivan assisted on the third-period game-winning goal by Radek Bonk to help Nashville shut out the Maple Leafs.
Oilers 5 Capitals 2
At Washington, Erik Cole had three goals, Gilbert Brule added a goal and an assist, and Edmonton handed the Capitals their third consecutive loss.
Senators 5 Hurricanes 1
At Ottawa, Dany Heatley, Dean McAmmond and Mike Fisher scored and the Senators stopped a five-game losing streak by beating Carolina.
Flames 3 Blues 1
At Calgary, Mike Cammalleri scored two goals and the red-hot Flames topped scrappy St. Louis.
Devils 5 Canucks 3
At Vancouver, Zach Parise, Travis Zajac and Dainius Zubrus all had a goal and an assist as New Jersey built a pair of three-goal leads and hung on to beat the Canucks.
Blue Jackets 4 Avalanche 3
At Columbus, Ohio, Kristian Huselius had a goal and two assists to help the Blue Jackets to their third straight win.
Penguins 4 Flyers 2
At Philadelphia, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal each scored, and Sidney Crosby had a pair of assists as Pittburgh downed the Flyers.
Rangers 2 Islanders 1
At Uniondale, N.Y., Chris Drury and Nigel Dawes scored 1:56 apart in the second period as the Rangers sent the rival Islanders to their fifth straight loss.
Wild 6 Coyotes 3
At St. Paul, Minn., Owen Nolan, Andrew Brunette and Cal Clutterbuck each had a goal and an assist and Minnesota held off Phoenix.
Sharks 7 Lightning 1
At San Jose, Calif., Joe Thornton had two goals and an assist, Evgeni Nabokov made 24 saves and the Sharks returned home for a one-sided victory over Tampa Bay.