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Detroit Just a reminder, this is what the playoffs look like and feel like.

The Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens essentially played a playoff game in mid-February on Monday, with the Canadiens doing just enough to earn a 2-0 victory at Joe Louis Arena.

Jimmy Howard was good, much better than his first game back Saturday, and the Red Wings were better than they've been the last few games. But Canadiens goalie Carey Price and his teammates were just a bit better.

"It felt like a playoff game, there was no room," said Howard, who stopped 27 shots in his second game back from a groin injury. "It was tough to get to both nets. It was a lot of fun.

"A great game to be part of. The fans were awesome. It was just back and forth, not much there and they caught a break (in the end)."

Montreal broke the scoreless tie on a goal by forward Tomas Plekanec.

After Howard stopped a long drive by Max Pacioretty (Michigan) off a rush, the puck went to the boards, where Canadiens forward Dale Weise backhanded a pass to Plekanec breaking into the zone.

Plekanec got a little more room when Pavel Datsyuk lost an edge and fell to the ice. Plekanec's slap shot between the circles beat Howard at 17:30; it was Plekanec's 17th goal.

"It was a good play from the boards, pass into the middle, and he (Plekanec) hit the shot pretty well," Tomas Tatar said. "It was a real tight game. It felt like a playoff game. One goal pretty much decided the game."

Max Pacioretty (Michigan) added an empty-net goal with 10 seconds left; it was his 26th goal.

The Red Wings (31-15-10, 72 points) saw their winless streak extend to three games (0-2-1) while falling six points behind the Canadiens (37-15-4, 78 points).

"It was a check fest, nothing much happened," coach Mike Babcock said. "They got two chances in the third (period) and they scored on one of them. There wasn't much room for either team.

"We knew it would be tough. You just wanted to make the play they made. It was a good opportunity for our guys to battle and see what it will be like. We need to elevate. The league has picked up pace and we need our players to keep up."

Babcock talked about the Canadiens after the morning skate and said what makes Montreal a successful team.

"What they do is trust the goaltender," Babcock said. "They have two defensemen that really generate offense. Their power play and penalty kill is good. They have good, explosive forwards.

"They're not worried about getting out-shot or spending too much time in zone. Probably the media worries about that more than they do."

Neither team could generate much offense in a tight first period that dragged because of a broken pane of glass. The delay lasted almost even minutes which appeared to sap some energy out of the anticipated Original Six battle.

Darren Helm had a quality scoring chance skating through the slot with speed, but Price made the stop.

The Red Wings had the only power play in the first period and failed to generate a quality chance.

Each team had a power play in the second period, and there were two four-on-fours after off-setting penalties, but even with a little more ice to operate, both teams continued to play close and safe.

"We took care of the puck and they did a good job as well," said Gustav Nyquist, who had a good scoring chance moments before Plekanec's goal but was denied by Price. "It was an even game, a fun game to play. Not so fun to lose."

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/tkulfan

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