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Pacioretty scores OT winner, Canadiens clinch playoff berth by edging Panthers 3-2

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MONTREAL — The Montreal Canadiens are heading to the playoffs, and they're hardly satisfied.

Their sights are already set on the next big objective: finishing first in the Eastern Conference.

Max Pacioretty scored in overtime as the Canadiens clinched a postseason berth with a 3-2 victory over the Florida Panthers on Saturday night.

"I'm pretty sure we knew we were going to be in the playoffs by this time of the year," said Alex Galchenyuk, who scored his first goal in 12 games. "It's nice to have, but we knew we were up there.

"Getting home-ice advantage is huge for us. It's going to be big for us in the playoffs and that's what we're working on.

Lars Eller also scored in regulation for the Canadiens, and Carey Price stopped 21 shots for his 41st win of the season.

The Canadiens have clinched a playoff spot for three consecutive years, and have appeared in seven of the last eight postseasons.

"At the end of the day, we need to get momentum going into the playoffs," Pacioretty said. "That's our goal right now. It's a good step in the right direction, but we know we have work to do."

Aleksander Barkov had a pair of goals for the Panthers, while Roberto Luongo made 21 saves in defeat.

PHOTO: Florida Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo makes a save on Montreal Canadiens' Dale Weise during first period NHL hockey action in Montreal, Saturday, March 28, 2015. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press,Graham Hughes)
Florida Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo makes a save on Montreal Canadiens' Dale Weise during first period NHL hockey action in Montreal, Saturday, March 28, 2015. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press,Graham Hughes)

After a scoreless third period, Pacioretty scored the winner on the power play just seconds after Florida's Vincent Trocheck took a penalty for high sticking.

Near the end of a mostly uneventful first period, defenseman Greg Pateryn levelled Florida's Jimmy Hayes with an emphatic hip check in front of the players' bench. Hayes took a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct on the play.

"I don't think it was dirty in any way," said Pateryn, who had five hits on the night. "He wasn't happy with it and thought there should have been a penalty, but he overreacted."

As the penalty expired, Eller jumped on a loose puck to Luongo's left and buried his first goal in seven games at 17:37. Jeff Petry got an assist on the goal — his first point with Montreal.

"It worked in our favor," Pateryn said of his hip check on Hayes. "Getting a hit like that gets you in the game."

At 6:09 of the second, Barkov's nifty backhand shot beat Price to make it 1-1 after a clever behind-the-back pass by Jonathan Huberdeau sent Barkov in alone.

Huberdeau fed Barkov again at 13:11 — this time a redirect over Price's shoulder — for the Panthers' first power-play goal in their last seven games. Montreal put an end to its own power-play woes less than two minutes later when Galchenyuk tied it at 2, beating Luongo for his 20th of the year.

Brendan Gallagher came inches from giving the Canadiens a 3-2 lead with three minutes on the clock in the third, but Luongo made an acrobatic save to keep the puck from crossing the goal line.

"Lu was great in all areas," Florida defenseman Brian Campbell. "Obviously, it was a highlight-reel save from him. He's there to protect us and save us, and he definitely gave us a chance."

NOTES: Montreal's Tom Gilbert (upper body) missed his third consecutive game. Devante Smith-Pelley and Manny Malhotra were healthy scratches. Brian Flynn dressed for the first time in six games. ... The Canadiens' P.K. Subban played his 200th consecutive game. He last missed a game on Jan. 30, 2013. ... Barkov recorded the first multigoal game of his career. .. Montreal's Alexei Emelin had five blocked shots.

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