TIME: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. EST.
After falling out of playoff position in the Eastern Conference, the struggling Montreal Canadiens hope to have a chance to move back into eighth place when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs, who found out Thursday they'll be without goaltender Ed Belfour for the rest of the season.
The Canadiens lost for the fourth time in five games Tuesday night, 3-1 to the New York Islanders. The defeat allowed Atlanta, which beat Boston on Tuesday for its seventh win in nine games, to move one point ahead of Montreal for the East's final postseason berth. The Thrashers host New Jersey on Thursday night.
"Most of my evaluations of games at this point are results," Canadiens coach Bob Gainey said. "We don't have the luxury of being far enough ahead in the playoff race to be able to find positives when we don't win. The results overwhelm everything else."
Canadiens forward Alexei Kovalev extended his season-best point streak to seven games with an assist on Mark Streit's first-period goal Tuesday. Montreal, though, has scored one goal in four of its last six contests.
The Canadiens have struggled against the Maple Leafs this season, losing four times in six meetings to their Original Six rivals, with five of the games decided by one goal. Two of the defeats came in overtime.
Toronto is only four points out of the final playoff spot, and has a game in hand on Atlanta. The Leafs will be looking for their third straight win and fifth in seven games Thursday.
Toronto knocked off first-place Carolina on Tuesday, as Jason Allison scored a power-play goal with 4:48 left for the game-winner in a 3-2 victory.
"We have to climb over two (teams) to get to that spot," Leafs coach Pat Quinn said. "Montreal is looking to regain their spot in the next games. They are playoff games. We have to approach it that way."
Toronto is trying to qualify for the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season. The Leafs' six-season streak is their longest since qualifying eight years in a row from 1974-81.
Goaltender Mikael Tellqvist has gone 4-2 with a 2.15 goals-against average and one shutout in the Leafs' last six games, and his strong play couldn't have come at a better time for Toronto. The Leafs said Thursday that Belfour is expected to miss the remainder of the season after being placed on injured reserve with a hurt back.
Belfour, 40, has struggled through a subpar season, going 22-22-4 with a 3.29 GAA in 49 games.
Kovalev has three goals and four assists in his last five games against the Leafs.
STANDINGS: Maple Leafs - 70 points, 4th place, 30 PB, Northeast Division. Canadiens - 73 points, 3rd place, 27 PB, Northeast Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Maple Leafs - Darcy Tucker, 24 goals; Tomas Kaberle, 50 assists; Bryan McCabe, 62 points and 104 PIM. Canadiens - Michael Ryder, 25 goals; Kovalev, 35 assists and 52 points; Todd Simpson, 121 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Maple Leafs - Power play: 20.5 percent (88 for 429), 4th in NHL. Penalty killing: 80.1 percent (334 for 417), 24th. Canadiens - Power play: 19.0 percent (72 for 379), 8th. Penalty killing: 81.0 percent (341 for 421), 22nd.
GOALTENDERS: Maple Leafs - Tellqvist (10-8-2, 2 SO, 2.76 GAA); Jean-Sebastien Aubin (no appearances). Canadiens - Cristobal Huet (12-8-4, 5, 2.26); David Aebischer (25-16-2, 3, 3.07).
SEASON SERIES: Maple Leafs, 4-2.
LAST MEETING: March 7; Maple Leafs, 5-3. At Toronto, Mats Sundin scored twice and Kaberle added a goal and three assists.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Maple Leafs - 11-18-4 on the road; Canadiens - 17-10-4 at home.