MONTREAL -- The often bitter rivalry between Montreal and Boston is going the Canadiens' way.
Alex Galchenyuk and Michael Ryder scored to take the lead and the Canadiens held on through a tight checking, physical battle to defeat Boston 2-1 on Saturday night.
The Canadiens won three of the four meetings between the teams this season. The win gave them a three-point lead over the Bruins in first place in the NHL's Northeast Division, although Boston has a game in hand.
"Every time we play this team it's the most important game," said defenceman Josh Gorges. "We've had a couple of good ones against these guys.
"Tonight, we played a full 60 minutes and that's what was impressive. They had some good push, that's a good hockey team over there, but we held our ground and played hard."
The Canadiens (25-8-5) have won five of their last six games.
Daniel Paille scored for Boston (24-9-4), which has been fading somewhat of late. While the loss ended a three-game winning streak, it left them only 5-5-1 in their last 11 games.
Montreal coach Michel Therrien was impressed that his team came through a stretch of five games in eight days with eight of a possible 10 points. It included a comeback 6-5 shootout win in Boston on March 27.
The Canadiens managed to hold off the Bruins despite losing physical defenceman Alexei Emelin at the 10:54 to an apparent left knee injury as he got the worst of it while putting a thundering check on rugged Bruin Milan Lucic. Therrien called it a lower body injury and said he would know more about it when it is examined on Sunday.
The injury made the other five rearguards work overtime, including newcomer Davis Drewiske who had 23:50 of ice time.
"You're out there every second shift," said Gorges, who played 26:18. "You get a rest shift every now and then, but you don't have time to worry about what side you're on or who is coming at you.
"You just try to be in their face and make the simple plays."
The Bruins were outshot 10-5 in the first period but battled back hard in the second.
And they had a glittering chance to tie it when Lars Eller was sent off with 57 seconds left in regulation time. Goalie Tuukka Rask was pulled for an extra attacker, and it seemed an ideal time for Boston to get the puck to the net and have its big forwards thrash at it in the crease.
But, while the Bruins held the puck in the Montreal zone, no one took a shot. They still had possession, still looking to pass, as time expired.
"I didn't know what time it was," said one player on the ice, star winger Jaromir Jagr who was acquired before the trade deadline from Dallas this week. "We were looking for the perfect shot.
"Maybe we should have taken some shots, but we didn't. It's OK. You have to learn from that. It's sad that we lost, but I'm happy with how we played the second and third periods."
Only two power plays were awarded in the game -- one to each team -- and Montreal made good on its chance when Ryder scored what proved to be the winning goal 57 seconds into the second period.
A needless cross-checking penalty by Lucic gave Montreal a man advantage to start the period and Ryder deflected a P.K. Subban wrist shot into the top corner. It was Ryder's sixth goal in the last six games.
They had a one-goal lead at the time through Galchenyuk, who scored for a second game in a row by slipping the puck into traffic in the crease and seeing Matt Bartkowski backheel it into his own net at 6:49.
P.K. Subban assisted on both goals and has 10 points in his last six games.
Paille won a faceoff against David Desharnais in the Montreal zone and then saw Johnny Boychuk's shot go in off his back at 7:10 of the middle period.
The game featured a few good chances at both ends, and some big hits and big saves from Carey Price and Rask, but none of the controversial incidents that often mark games between the rivals.
"We battled back," said Rask. "They got the lead but we got better.
"We just couldn't get the puck in the net. That was it. If you look at all three goals scored, if you ask me or Price, it should have been a 0-0 game."
Final shots were 29-27 in Montreal's favour.
"We're finding ways to win games," said Eller. "This time we protected a lead over three periods, the last game we played in Boston we caught up after being behind by two goals.
"There's a lot to like about this team. Really. But there are still 10 games to go, and if you want to go to the Stanley Cup Final you have to be good enough to beat every team. You want to finish with as good a record as you can and feel good going in, and this one felt really good."
Notes: Tomas Plekanec returned after missing one game with a suspected groin problem, bumping Michael Blundin from the lineup. Gabriel Dumont, Tomas Kaberle and Yannick Weber were scratched. . .Newly acquired Wade Redden didn't dress and has yet to make his Bruins debut. Jordan Caron and Aaron Johnson were healthy scratches. . . Boston's Patrice Bergeron, who had seven points in three games against Montreal, missed a second game with a concussion.