Canadiens (44-24-9, 97 points) @ Lightning (38-29-9, 85 points)
After officially clinching a playoff spot, the Canadiens begin a three-game road trip with a tilt against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night at Amalie Arena.
Claude's Julien's troops picked up their third consecutive win on Thursday night, besting the Florida Panthers by a score of 6-2 in front of the Bell Centre faithful. It was a big night for Brendan Gallagher, who registered the first four-point night of his career with a goal and three assists. Paul Byron scored twice to up his goal count to 22 this season, while Max Pacioretty notched his team-leading 35th goal of the year.
Video: Habs clinch playoff berth with 6-2 win vs. Panthers
Not only did Thursday night's victory ensure that the Canadiens would return to the postseason after a one-year hiatus, but it also upped their lead atop the Atlantic Division to six points over the Ottawa Senators.
Torrey Mitchell didn't take part in Saturday's morning skate. He was sick and remained at the team hotel. Michael McCarron was back centering the fourth line during the on-ice session with Dwight King and Andreas Martinsen, while Steve Ott was an extra skater. McCarron had been a healthy scratch in favor of Ott for the last two games.
Jordie Benn is also out of action for a second straight game as he continues to battle an injury.
The Lightning, meanwhile, are doing everything they can to remain in the playoff hunt. Jon Cooper's squad has rattled off four consecutive victories in an effort to keep their postseason hopes alive.
They now sit three points back of the Boston Bruins, who currently occupy the second and final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
In their most recent outing on Thursday night, the Lightning completed a five-game season sweep of the Detroit Red Wings with a 5-3 win in the Sunshine State.
Right-winger Nikita Kucherov has been a dominant offensive force for the Lightning this season. He sits tied for second in the League alongside Brad Marchand with 38 goals, and ranks sixth with 80 points. Victor Hedman has been equally productive on the back end. He ranks third among defensemen with 66 points (15 g - 51 a) in 73 games.
The two teams have split their season series to date with one win apiece. The Canadiens posted a 3-1 win on October 27 at the Bell Centre, before falling 4-3 in overtime on December 28 in Tampa. They'll meet again on April 7 in Montreal as Julien's contingent closes out the home portion of its regular-season schedule.
Following Saturday night's contest, the Canadiens will make their way to South Florida where they'll battle the Panthers on Monday, before closing out the trip in Buffalo on Wednesday.
Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. EST. The game will be broadcast on CITY and TVA Sports, as well as on TSN Radio 690 and 98,5 fm.