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Byron scores twice, Canadiens beat Panthers to clinch playoff spot

Montreal Canadiens centre Tomas Plekanec celebrates with teammates after scoring the second goal during first period NHL hockey action in Montreal, on March 30, 2017.

Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Paul Byron had two goals and Brendan Gallagher scored and added three assists as the Montreal Canadiens defeated the visiting Florida Panthers 6-2 on Thursday to clinch a playoff spot with five games remaining in their regular season.

Tomas Plekanec, Max Pacioretty and Phillip Danault also scored for Montreal (44-24-9). Carey Price made 29 saves for his 36th victory of the season.

The Canadiens will play in the post-season for the fourth time in the past five years, and for the eighth time in the last decade.

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Reilly Smith and Michael Matheson scored for the Panthers (33-33-11). Reto Berra, replacing injured goalies James Reimer (upper body) and Roberto Luongo (lower body), stopped 26-of-32 shots in defeat.

The Canadiens had a resounding first period and that's all they would need to beat the Panthers.

Video: Montreal Canadiens clinch playoff spot (The Canadian Press)

Plekanec's line with Byron and Gallagher scored three times in a 5:55 span in the first as the Canadiens quickly jumped to an insurmountable 3-0 lead.

Byron got the first at 7:24, capitalizing on a failed clearance by Florida to net his 21st goal of the season.

Plekanec doubled Montreal's lead at 10:04, beating Berra from the slot on a centring pass from Gallagher.

The home side made it 3-0 just three minutes after that. Byron got his second of the game, deflecting a sharp pass by Nathan Beaulieu past Berra.

In the third, a lucky bounce led to a 2-on-1 for Alexander Radulov and Pacioretty, who scored his team-leading 35th goal at 3:52.

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Gallagher made it 5-2 when he deflected Brandon Davidson's shot from the point at 12:55 of the third. It's the first four-point game of Gallagher's career.

Down 3-0, the visitors had a golden opportunity to get back in the game when Pacioretty and Shea Weber took back-to-back penalties but the Panthers failed to convert on the 5-on-3 that lasted 1:22.

Florida finished 0 for 3 with the extra skater.

Smith scored for Florida at 10:41 of the second, beating Price five-hole with a low wrister from the face-off circle. Matheson added another for the Panthers at 8:35 of the third.

Danault added Montreal's sixth at 16:49.

Notes: Goalie Charlie Lindgren, 23, was recalled from the St. John's IceCaps on Wednesday and was Price's backup. Florida's Jason Demers played his 500th NHL game. Montreal Expos Hall of Famer Tim Raines dropped the ceremonial first puck.

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