It was the best of times: a seemingly insurmountable 7-1 lead after 40 minutes, total domination of an Ottawa team that has kicked Canadiens butt all season.
But it was nearly the worst of times, as the Senators scored four unanswered goals and outshot Canadiens 14-2 in the third period.
When it was finally over, to the vast relief of the home team and 21,273 fans, Canadiens had clinched a playoff spot and were atop the Eastern Conference with 96 points – the most they’ve attained since the 1993-’94 season.
And despite the near-death experience tonight, the team has exceeded everyone’s great expectations.
"We’re definitely pretty pumped and happy we clinched," said Christopher Higgins. "It was a nice win for us.
"The third period you can throw out the window."
Only if no one is walking by on the street below. The Senators staged a scary rally and were on the power play with 2:30 to go when Higgins made an heroic clearing play on the PK.
"It was getting a litttle antsy there, a little hairy," Higgins said of Ottawa’s late-game power play. "But the PK came through at the right times.
"They were coming on, and we know a team like that can score goals in bunches. We had that game against the Rangers, so that was in the back of our minds. A team with that kind of firepower has the ability to come back."
Canadiens also killed a third-period 5-on-3 disadvantage. Overall, the PK went 5-for-6 as three of Ottawa’s third-period goals were scored at even-strength.
"No excuse for letting up as much as we did," Higgins said. "Obviously we would have liked to make it a little easier on ourselves."
Having clinched a playoff spot, Canadiens, Higgins said, can "focus on fine-tuning our game and having a lot of fun because this is a great time for playing hockey."
And a great time for watching hockey – at least for 40 minutes.
"Obviously when you’re up 7-1 you think you can take two points," said Saku Koivu. "But that probably won’t be the case in the playoffs. We might have one- or two-goal lead and the focus has to stay consistent."