MONTREAL — The Montreal Canadiens claimed 17 of a possible 18 points in their last nine games to streak their way to the Atlantic Division lead.
Montreal center Tomas Plekanec and left winger Max Pacioretty scored second-period goals and the Canadiens, who are on an 8-0-1 run, moved ahead of Boston atop the division with a 2-1 win over the Bruins on Thursday night.
Goaltender Carey Price made 32 saves for Montreal, which extended its winning streak to four in the first of four meetings this season between the longtime divisional rivals.
The Canadiens, who played two more games than Boston, improved to 18-9-3 to move one point ahead of the Bruins with 39 points.
“We know that we have an opportunity to be an elite team in the league, and that’s what we’re striving to be,” said Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban, the 2012-13 Norris Trophy winner as the NHL’s top defenseman. “We’re attaining that goal because we’re doing the right things. We’re working hard and we’re holding each other accountable.”
Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask stopped 25 shots.
Center Gregory Campbell scored the only goal of the first period after Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk was taken off on a stretcher when he suffered a back injury on a hit into the boards by Pacioretty.
The game was delayed for 10 minutes while Boychuk was attended to on the ice by medical staff from both teams after the hit in the left corner behind the Montreal goal 4:28 into the game. Pacioretty was penalized for boarding.
“I think it was deserving of a two-minute penalty,” Boston coach Claude Julien said. “I’m being honest here, I don’t think it was more than that. I think it’s probably the way he went into the boards that did most of the damage. I don’t think it was from the severity of the hit, so we have to be honest if we’re going to clean up this game, and to turn around and say, ‘It should have been a game suspension,’ I don’t think so. That’s my opinion.”
Boychuk grimaced in pain and was breathing heavily while he was down on the ice on all fours before he was placed on a stretcher. His head and neck were immobilized before he was wheeled off the ice.
Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli said in a statement on the Bruins’ website that Boychuk “was able to demonstrate movement in all of his extremities” before he was taken to Montreal General Hospital for observation.
Julien did not have any further details about the nature or extent of Boychuk’s injury.
“The good news is he’s coming back with us (Thursday night) and then he’ll be re-assessed by our doctors back in Boston,” Julien said.
Plekanec tied it at 1 with his fourth goal in seven games 9:16 into the second. Plekanec scored his 10th of the season from a sharp angle when he beat Rask inside the right post with a shot from low in the right faceoff circle on a pass from defenseman Josh Gorges.
Pacioretty put Montreal ahead at 17:42 with his ninth goal in his last five games at the Bell Centre with a backhand shot through traffic in the slot into the left side of the net.
“It’s just going in right now,” Pacioretty said. “I didn’t play a strong game. I thought I felt OK in the beginning, and I got a little bit of the life sucked out of me once that injury happened. I felt terrible and honestly I didn’t know how it happened completely and I just felt bad, but at the same time I’ve got to be stronger mentally than that. I got back to my game and felt a little bit better as the game went on.”
Pacioretty scored in five straight home games and has 10 points in his last nine games overall. He has no points in four road games over the same stretch.
Campbell took a pass from left winger Milan Lucic on a 2-on-1 and beat Price at 17:35 of the first to open the scoring with his second goal in 28 games this season.
Montreal played its third game in four nights, including consecutive wins against New Jersey. The Canadiens defeated the Devils 3-2 on Monday at the Bell Centre, and 4-3 in a shootout at New Jersey on Wednesday.
The Bruins (18-8-2) had not played since Saturday, when they beat Columbus, 3-1. Rask’s record against Montreal fell to 2-9-2.
“It would be nice to win, obviously,” Rask said. “I’ve played some bad games against these guys, I’ve played some good games, just not good enough to win, but it doesn’t matter, I want to win every game,” Rask said. “It’s just my record doesn’t show how things are against Montreal.”