While the Canadiens definitely will have a shot to clinch the last available playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the Maple Leafs may have the same opportunity as these Northeast Division rivals meet in their regular-season finale at the Air Canada Centre.
Montreal (42-33-6) is currently eighth in the Eastern Conference with 90 points, just one ahead of ninth-place Toronto (39-31-11) and two ahead of the New York Islanders, who have one game in hand.
The Canadiens can clinch the final playoff spot with a win. If the Islanders lose their matchup with Philadelphia earlier on Saturday, Montreal also could earn a berth just by avoiding a regulation loss.
"You will have two teams playing for their season," said Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau, whose team is 9-3-0 in its last 12 games. "It is going to be a great game. We have to focus and re-concentrate."
Toronto can clinch a spot in the postseason with a regulation win coupled with an Islanders' defeat in regulation or overtime in one of their final two games.
"We have not done one thing this year the easy way," Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice said. "We've had to scratch and claw and fight back, and now we need some help, but we're still in the thick of things."
Both teams failed to help their playoff hopes in their most recent games.
The Canadiens lost 3-1 to the New York Rangers on Thursday when they didn't get on the board until Sheldon Souray scored on the power play with less than five minutes remaining. Souray set a single-season NHL record for man-advantage goals by a defenseman with 19.
"Nothing has come easy for us," said Souray, who is second on the team in both goals (26) and points (63). "We're going to need a real good game come Saturday. It's for everything. We have our game to make it in."
The Canadiens have dropped eight of 10 on the road, and are visiting a Toronto team which has won eight straight at home while outscoring opponents 30-14.
The Maple Leafs are trying to match their franchise-best home winning streak of nine games, set Nov. 11-Dec. 26, 1953.
They are coming off a 5-2 road loss to the Islanders, though, during which they allowed three straight unanswered goals in the third period.
Carlo Colaiacovo scored to tie the game at 2 just over two minutes into the final period, but Toronto quickly crumbled. Andrew Raycroft made 22 saves in the defeat and has struggled against the Canadiens this season, going 1-1-3 with a 2.71 goals-against average in five starts.
Cristobal Huet or Jaroslav Halak could get the nod for Montreal on Saturday as both saw time in the last game. Halak, who had won seven of his previous eight starts, was pulled after allowing the first three goals versus the Rangers. Huet returned to the ice for the third period after missing nearly two months with a left hamstring injury and stopped all eight shots he faced.
"That's one of the reasons we put Cristobal in net. I wanted him to see some pucks in a game situation," Carbonneau said. "Jaro has been unbelievable. He is the reason we are here now. There is no way I blame him.
"Cristobal has the experience."
The Canadiens hold a 4-2-1 edge in the season series between these teams with four of those matchups decided in shootouts, including Montreal's 3-2 victory on March 17. Saku Koivu and Andrei Kostitsyn each scored in regulation and the shootout for the Canadiens.
Koivu, who leads Montreal with 72 points, is riding a seven-game point streak with three goals and nine assists in that span.
Toronto leading scorer Mats Sundin is trying to snap an 11-game goal-scoring drought. He needs one to tie Darryl Sitler for most goals in a Toronto uniform with 389.
|Apr 07 '07||MTL 5 at TOR 6||K. Wellwood|
|Mar 17 '07||TOR 2 at MTL 3 - SO||A. Kostitsyn|
|Feb 26 '07||TOR 4 at MTL 5||S. Souray|
|Jan 27 '07||MTL 1 at TOR 4||J. O'Neill|
|Dec 02 '06||TOR 3 at MTL 4 - SO||S. Souray|
|Nov 11 '06||MTL 1 at TOR 5||M. Stajan|
|Oct 28 '06||TOR 5 at MTL 4 - SO||K. Wellwood|
|Oct 07 '06||MTL 3 at TOR 2 - SO||M. Ryder|