Canadiens and 'Canes hope to finish strong
Wednesday, 04.04.2012 / 11:06 PM
CANADIENS (30-35-15) at HURRICANES (32-32-16)
TV: TSN, RDS (HD), FS-CR (HD)
Last 10: Montreal 3-3-4; Carolina 6-3-1
Season Series: This is the fourth and final meeting this season between two teams looking towards next season. Montreal won the first two games before Carolina beat the Canadiens 5-3 in the most recent matchup, a game in which Eric Staal scored two third-period goals.
Big Story: While neither team will be appearing in the postseason, the franchises find themselves in very different situations as they play out the remainder of their seasons. After finishing March with a 5-3-1 record and posting a 24-19-12 record since Kirk Muller took over behind the bench, the core of Carolina's team appears to be in place. The Canadiens, on the other hand, fired general manager Pierre Gauthier last week after axing coach Jacques Martin in December; interim coach Randy Cunneyworth could be in his last week.
Canadiens: After losing four in a row and seven of their last eight to end March, the Canadiens were looking to snap out of their slump as they entered their final three games in a disappointing season. That stretch started Wednesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Hosting the Bolts, the Canadiens' top line of David Desharnais, Erik Cole, and Max Pacioretty led the charge.
As they have all season, the Habs' top trio carried the team offensively, combining for seven points with Cole and Pacioretty scoring two goals each in a 5-2 win. Starting in place of injured starter Carey Price, Peter Budaj held the fort for the most part, his only gaffe being an errant pass right onto the stick of Vincent Lecavalier, who had no trouble putting the puck into a wide open net. Montreal's defense also had a notable evening, keeping the League's leading goal-scorer, Steven Stamkos, from finding the back of the net.
Hurricanes: Following a season-long four-game win streak two weeks ago, Carolina ended March with a 1-3-1 slump. But the 'Canes got their final week of the season off to a strong start in Ottawa on Tuesday night with a 2-1 win. The Hurricanes got goals in the second period from Brandon Sutter and Tuomo Ruutu and 38 saves by Cam Ward, who lost his shutout when Jason Spezza scored with 12.4 seconds remaining.
"He looked strong in there tonight, he looked good and was seeing the puck well," coach Kirk Muller said of Ward. "When he's playing like that he's one of the top goalies in the game and gives us a chance to win every night."
Who's Hot: Montreal's Max Pacioretty has four points in his last four games while Erik Cole has seven goals in his last six games. … For the Hurricanes, Sutter has two goals in his last three games and Jussi Jokinen has five points in his last five games.
Injury Report: The Canadiens IR includes Travis Moen (upper body), Mathieu Darche (upper body), Brian Gionta (bicep surgery), Tomas Kaberle (upper body), Scott Gomez (concussion), Raphael Diaz (lower body) and Yannick Weber (lower body) while Ryan White, Petteri Nokelainen, and Carey Price are also out. … The Canes are missing Jaroslav Spacek (lower body) and Andreas Nodl (concussion-like symptoms).
Stat Pack: Carolina is 8-0-2 in its last 10 games against the Northeast Division. … Cole, a former Hurricane, has a career-high 34 goals for Montreal. If he can score twice in the Canadiens' last two games, he'll have the most goals by a Montreal player since 1995-96.
Puck Drop: Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller spent five seasons as an assistant coach with the Canadiens and his absence this season was felt immediately. During his five seasons running the Canadiens' special teams, Montreal's power play ranked tops in the League twice and never finished lower than 13th. In their first season without Muller, the Habs' power play ranks 28th.