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Canadiens continue fight for home ice vs. Rangers

by Arpon Basu

RANGERS (45-31-5) at CANADIENS (45-28-8)


Last 10: New York 7-2-1; Montreal 7-2-1

Season series: This is the third and final game between the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers. The teams split the first two, with each game ending in a shutout by the backup goaltender. Peter Budaj led the Canadiens to a 2-0 win in the first game, and Cam Talbot backstopped a 1-0 Rangers shutout a few weeks later.

Big story: The Canadiens are fighting for home-ice advantage in their first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, so motivation shouldn't be an issue for Montreal. The same cannot be said for the Rangers, who are locked into second in the Metropolitan Division and will host Game 1 of their first-round series no matter what happens in this game.

The Canadiens squandered an opportunity to maintain their distance from the Lightning by losing 2-0 to the New York Islanders at home Thursday, but either way coach Michel Therrien knows exactly what he's going to say once the Game 1 location is decided.

"We won't know who will have home-ice advantage until Sunday night, but I can already predict what the answers will be," Therrien said after practice Friday. "The team that has it will say they're really happy, and the team that doesn't will say it's not important. That's what will happen Sunday, or Monday when you see me, so I beat you by 72 hours."

Team scope:

Rangers: The Rangers are coming off two straight wins and could possibly be resting some veterans in a game that is meaningless as far as the standings are concerned.

However, the Rangers were not particularly pleased with the way they performed in a 2-1 win Thursday at home against the Buffalo Sabres, a game that was tied until Rick Nash scored with 1:42 to play in regulation time.

Players say all the time that you can't simply flip a switch and turn it on for the playoffs, so in that sense the Rangers may have some motivation to round into form against the Canadiens.

Then again, it's hard to focus on a meaningless regular-season finale when the most meaningful games of the season are right around the corner.

"We want to be in the playoffs," center Brad Richards told The (Bergen) Record after the game Thursday. "I think everybody, deep down, wishes we could start tomorrow. You've got to be professional and play these games, but you also start the season for one reason, and that's to try and compete for the [Stanley] Cup."

One veteran who is all but guaranteed to get a rest is goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who has a poor history at Bell Centre and played Thursday against Buffalo. Talbot should get the start in goal.

Canadiens: There are also some on-ice issues that will need to be shored up for Montreal. One area of concern would be the power play, which is mired in an 0-for-20 slump over the past seven games.

But primarily, much like the Rangers, the Canadiens did not like the way they played in their last game and want to right that ship prior to the playoffs.

"We want to go in there and do what we can to get home ice; it's something to strive for," defenseman Josh Gorges said. "But our focus should be on the way we're playing, make sure that going into the playoffs, whether we have home ice or not, we're playing the right way, we're playing at the top of our game, we fine-tune the details and make sure there are no holes."

Who's hot: Rangers forward Benoit Pouliot is on a career-high seven-game point streak, with one point in each of those seven games. … Over the past eight games, the Canadiens' top line of Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais and Thomas Vanek has a combined total of 13 goals and 16 assists.

Injury report: Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh (shoulder) has missed the past four games. He is expected to participate in the morning skate in Montreal before a decision is made on whether he will play. Forward Chris Kreider (hand) is out, though he is skating. … Canadiens center Lars Eller (illness) will miss his third game. Forwards Brandon Prust (upper body) and Travis Moen (concussion) are out.

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