CANADIENS (14-16-7) at LIGHTNING (15-17-3)
TV: RDS (HD), TSN-HABS (HD), SUN (HD)
Montreal 3-5-2; Tampa Bay 4-5-1
First of four meetings. The teams split their matchups on the 2010-11 schedule, with Montreal taking the two most recent games. Max Pacioretty
led the Canadiens with 3 goals and Steven Stamkos
also had 3 goals to pace the Lightning.
Two teams that qualified for the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs but have underachieved during the first half of this season will each be trying to build off a key victory two nights earlier. Montreal routed Ottawa to win its first game under interim coach Randy Cunneyworth, while Tampa Bay blasted a very good Philadelphia squad. One team will exit Thursday's showdown with a modest two-game winning streak and some momentum heading into its New Year's Eve game.
In Cunneyworth's first four games behind the Montreal bench -- all losses -- the Canadiens scored a total of six goals. They matched that output in 60 minutes against the Senators, responding to an early goal against by connecting for the next five en route to a 6-2 triumph. Lars Eller
's shorthander got the party started, and the Habs got a goal and an assist each from Tomas Plekanec
, Mike Cammalleri
, Louis Leblanc
, P.K. Subban
and Erik Cole
, as well as three assists from Raphael Diaz
. They snapped an overall five-game skid.
"He's been doing a good job for us and we haven't been playing up to par so it was really good to be able to get that one for him," goalie Carey Price
, who stopped 33 shots, said of Cunneyworth.
Goaltending has been scrutinized more than anything else in Tampa Bay this season, and while it was encouraging to see the offense break out behind a pair of goals from Stamkos in a 5-1 win over Philadelphia, the eye-opening performance of the night came from Mathieu Garon
in net. He stopped 31 shots -- including 16 in the first period, when the game easily could have turned in the Flyers' favor. Instead, the Lightning escaped the opening 20 minutes in a 1-1 tie and took over in the second as Stamkos sandwiched his goals around one by Steve Downie
"(Garon) gave us a chance," coach Guy Boucher said in the Tampa Bay Times. "And after that, the players gave it back to him."
Cole leads the Canadiens with 14 goals in his first season after signing as a free agent. … St. Louis has 1 goal and 3 assists since returning from facial fractures resulting from getting hit by a puck in practice, and has extended his points streak to five games (3-3-6).
Montreal forwards Brian Gionta
(lower body) and Scott Gomez
(groin) and defenseman Andrei Markov
(knee) are on injured reserve. … Tampa Bay defensemen Eric Brewer
and Victor Hedman
left Tuesday's game with upper-body injuries. Brewer returned to finish the game, but both are considered day-to-day, as is forward Nate Thompson
(lower body). Forward Ryan Shannon
is out 2-4 weeks with a lower-body injury. Defensemen Matt Gilroy
(lower body) and Mattias Ohlund
(knee) are also sidelined.
Eller has scored two of the Canadiens' three shorthanded goals this season. … Stamkos, who tied for the Rocket Richard Trophy with Sidney Crosby in 2009-10, when he scored 51 goals, entered Wednesday's action with 22 goals, tied for the NHL lead with Marian Gaborik of the Rangers.
Cunneyworth was Ottawa's captain and Jacques Martin its coach when the modern-day Senators earned their first playoff berth in 1997. Flash forward almost 15 years and Cunneyworth has now replaced Martin as Montreal coach and earned his first NHL coaching victory against Ottawa.
"I would have taken it a couple of games earlier but obviously a win's a win, and it's the start of hopefully many more," he said.