The Phoenix Coyotes are hanging around in the Western Conference race, but they'll have to solve a long-time nemesis if they hope to make up ground.
The Coyotes will be trying for their first win against Montreal in nearly a decade on Thursday when they host the Canadiens.
Phoenix (34-28-5), which has not reached the postseason since 2002, is in 10th place in the Western Conference - three points behind Colorado and Nashville for the eighth and final playoff spot.
"We've got our work cut out," Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky said. "There's a tough haul ahead. But the light at the end of the tunnel is strong. Nothing will be given to anyone."
The Coyotes will be looking to end an even longer drought on Thursday, having lost five games and tying three others against the Canadiens (36-22-9) since a 4-2 victory Dec. 9, 1998. It is also the first meeting between the teams since Phoenix lost 5-2 at Montreal on Dec. 13, 2005.
The Coyotes have won three of five, including Wednesday's 2-1 victory in Dallas. Peter Mueller and Shane Doan each scored for Phoenix, which has managed only 10 goals in its last seven games.
Radim Vrbata, who leads the team with 27 goals, picked up an assist but has not scored a goal in a season-worst seven games. The Coyotes, meanwhile, managed only 16 shots after taking just 17 in Saturday's 3-1 loss to Calgary.
But while the Coyotes' offense has sputtered, goalie Ilya Bryzgalov has stepped up. He made 20 saves against the Stars and owns a 1.21 goals-against average while starting the last five games.
|Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, left, has posted a 1.21 GAA over the last five games. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
"Our goaltending has to be strong if we're going to make the playoffs," Doan said. "Bryzgalov has given us a chance. Our goaltending has been strong all year. That's why we're in this position."
The Coyotes have dropped three of four at home, but will be trying to halt that skid against Montreal, which is tied with Ottawa for the Northeast Division lead.
The Canadiens had a three-game winning streak snapped Monday, falling 6-4 in San Jose. Tomas Plekanec scored two goals and Ryan O'Byrne added his first NHL goal for Montreal, which opened a four-game trip against Pacific Division foes.
"We did some really good things, and we did some really bad things," coach Guy Carbonneau said. "We're playing well, but we still have a young team that's learning to play on these occasions. ... In the papers, everyone was talking about our defense and our goaltender, and we saw the results tonight."
Rookie Carey Price made 33 saves but struggled through his worst game as the No. 1 goaltender since Montreal traded Cristobal Huet to Washington on Feb. 26. Price is 3-1-0 with a 2.51 GAA in four starts since the trade and had allowed just four goals on 92 shots in his first three games before Monday's loss.
"They go to the net hard, and I just have to work harder," Price said. "That's how you score goals in this league."
In 30 appearances, Price is 15-10-3 with a 2.78 GAA.