CANADIENS (17-18-3) at HURRICANES (9-21-6)
Last 10 -- Montreal 5-4-1; Carolina 4-5-1
Season series -- It's the second of four meetings this season. Andrei Kostitsyn scored late in the third period to force overtime and Maxim Lapierre had the only goal of a six-round shootout back on Nov. 17 as the Canadiens beat the Hurricanes 3-2 in Montreal. Carey Price finished with 30 saves, in addition to stopping all six Carolina attempts in the penalty-shot tiebreaker.
Big story -- It's been a season of streaks for Montreal. Dating back to late November, the Canadiens endured an 0-3-1 stretch, won three straight, went 0-4-1 in the next five and followed that with the two-game win streak they are currently on. This topsy-turvy run has left them in a tie for ninth place in the Eastern Conference, two points out of a playoff spot.
Canadiens -- The return of defenseman Andrei Markov has sparked Montreal to consecutive road wins over the Islanders and Thrashers. Markov, who missed 35 games after suffering lacerated tendons in his ankle, showed a flair for the dramatic with two power-play goals in his return Saturday. He assisted on Marc-Andre Bergeron's tying goal in Monday's 4-3 overtime win at Atlanta.
"He's an All-Star defenseman that has great vision and moves the puck well," coach Jacques Martin said after the Islanders game. "It's nice to get a top player back. Those guys are hard to replace. His execution was really outstanding."
Hurricanes -- Cam Ward was excellent and his Carolina teammates worked hard Monday, but the end result was still a 3-1 loss to the visiting New York Rangers, who snapped a third-period tie on a goal by Brandon Dubinsky and added a Marc Staal empty-netter. Ward stopped 28 shots for the Hurricanes, who have won two of their last four.
"It was a painful game and we're not in a position to wash those away, but it was a well-played game that turned on a goal," coach Paul Maurice said. "There was a good crowd in the building, there were some good hits and both teams played smart and didn't take stupid penalties. There was a lot of intensity in that game."
Who's hot -- The return of Markov only makes the Canadiens more potent from the blue line. Bergeron scored twice against the Thrashers and has nine goals for the season. Up front, leading scorer Tomas Plekanec has a goal and five assists in his last two games and Andrei Kostitsyn has six goals in as many games.
Carolina forward Sergei Samsonov has goals in consecutive games for the first time this season. Ward has a .933 save percentage over his last two starts.
Injury report -- Montreal forward Brian Gionta remains out with a broken foot while defenseman Roman Hamrlik hasn't played since injuring his knee last Wednesday in New Jersey. Forward Benoit Pouliot, acquired from Minnesota in the Guillaume Latendresse trade, is close to returning from a wrist injury and making his debut with the team.
Carolina defenseman Niclas Wallin (upper body) hasn't played since Dec. 5. Defenseman Joe Corvo (lower right leg surgery) and forwards Chad LaRose (lower body) and Erik Cole (upper body) are all on injured reserve. Defenseman Casey Borer (broken neck) and forward Michael Ryan (concussion) have yet to play this season.
Stat pack -- Montreal is one of six teams remaining (Atlanta, Buffalo, Los Angeles, New Jersey, Nashville) that has won every game this season it has led after two periods. The Canadiens also rank in the top 10 in on the power play (third, 23.0 percent) and penalty kill (seventh, 84.0 percent).
Puck drop -- This is the third stop on a seven-game road trip that has the Habs away from home for the Christmas holiday. It's off to a good start, however, and they'll look to play Scrooge at the expense of the fans at the RBC Center on Wednesday.