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montreal 4, detroit 3 (ot)

Montreal Canadiens' Jeff Petry, top, celebrates his goal past Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard during second period NHL hockey action Thursday, April 9, 2015 in Montreal.Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

There is a foul plague infecting the NHL. It is the following phrase: "Play the right way."

Part maxim, part buzzword, all cliché.

Its etymological origins are murky, although former Toronto Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson was quoted using it as early as 2009; Buffalo Sabres defenceman Josh Gorges leaned on it like a crutch during his time in Montreal, it clearly rubbed off.

Former teammate P.K. Subban deployed the catch-all earlier this week in discussing his team's approach on the eve of the playoffs.

He meant, essentially, that the results matter less than the quality of the Canadiens' overall play.

"You don't want to be winning while playing badly," he said.

It's a fair point, and after a stretch of games where the Habs bore little resemblance to an Eastern Conference powerhouse, crispness has returned to their game.

If there is a poster franchise for playing correct hockey, it's the Detroit Red Wings, who provided the opposition at the Bell Centre on Thursday.

Detroit can rival the Habs for skill and speed – head coach Mike Babcock's top line of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Tatar is frankly terrifying in terms of offensive ability – but Montreal was far from outclassed in this one.

Zone breakouts, a notable deficiency for much of this season, were typically efficient and quickly executed.

Fore-checkers went hard after pucks, the neutral zone was largely under control and with a couple of notable exceptions defensive zone coverage was competent and calm.

The power play even contributed a goal.

If you're looking for signs that the Habs are playoff ready, there they are.

Those who root for Montreal may want to just ignore the less auspicious portents from this one.

Defenceman Tom Gilbert was a late scratch; the knock-on effect was a spot for youngster Greg Pateryn and a heavier workload for Alexei Emelin, the big-hitting rearguard.

The Russian would duly chalk up a minus-two and a handful of appalling miscues.

In fairness, he wasn't alone in that department.

When the Red Wings opened the scoring in the first, it wasn't a systemic issue or sloppy execution, just an old-fashioned brain cramp from Brendan Gallagher on the far boards that gifted the puck to Datsyuk, whose pinpoint feed to Tatar left Carey Price no chance.

The Habs replied on an Andrei Markov point shot (P.K. Subban picked up his 59th point of the year on the play; Norris Trophy voters will take note).

Montreal made it 2-1 in the second when defenceman Jeff Petry fired his third goal in five games past Jimmy Howard. He is now on a six-game point streak.

But Detroit knotted the game after Gallagher couldn't clear the zone and Datsyuk danced around Emelin to fire a low shot past Price.

The visitors would take the lead in the final frame after a mistake from a less predictable source: Markov telegraphed a cross-ice pass to Subban on the power play, and Darren Helm scooted in to tuck a shot over Price's blocker.

"Breakdowns are going to happen," Subban said Wednesday, presciently.

With Montreal on a five-on-three in the latter half of the third period (Brendan Smith having swatted the puck while sitting on the bench), the silky-handed blueliner made not one but two unforced turnovers – didn't matter, he earned his second assist of the night on Tomas Plekanec's 25th of the year.

That the 4-3 outcome was reached in overtime (Lars Eller scored the decisive marker for Montreal on the rush) secured a franchise-record 43rd win this year for Price, and a postseason berth for Detroit, who have done it the hard way this season.

"We've been doing this for a couple of years now, scratching and clawing our way in," Howard said before the game. "We're used to this."

That they are.

It's the 24th successive playoff appearance for the Red Wings – extending their North American pro sports record.