RANGERS (24-20-7) at CANADIENS (24-23-5)
New York 5-3-2; Montreal 4-4-2
This is the third meeting between the two clubs and second in less than a week. The Canadiens and the Rangers faced off last Sunday at Madison Square Garden. While the Habs had a 2-0 lead after the first period, the Rangers scored six unanswered goals for a 6-2 win. The second period was reminiscent of the Original Six days with two fights and a fair number of roughing penalties. Montreal defeated the Rangers, 5-4, on Oct. 24 at the Bell Centre. Mike Cammalleri
completed a hat trick with an overtime goal.
With the Habs' win over the Devils on Friday, they climbed up the ladder in points and sit just one shy of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. A win on Saturday will tie them with the Rangers with 55 points. The Rangers are currently in sixth.
After crushing the Canadiens 6-2 on Sunday and the Lightning 8-2 on Tuesday, the Rangers reverted to their previous three-game scoring drought in a 2-0 loss to the Flyers. Henrik Lundqvist
made 25 saves, but the big story was the heated second period, which included three fights. Rangers top goal-scorer Marian Gaborik
, who previously had only fought once in his NHL career, dropped the gloves with Flyers tough-guy Daniel Carcillo.
"There's no honor in that," said coach John Tortorella, who was displeased that Philly's enforcer engaged Gaborik. "I don't play the game, I don't wear the uniform, so I don't want to say too much about that. There's no honor in that. It's pretty embarrassing."
With a convincing 3-1 win over the Devils, the Canadiens put an end to a three-game losing streak. Between the Rangers on Sunday and the Devils on Friday, the Habs faced the Blues, and while they lost in overtime they worked hard in the third period, scoring two to force the extra period. The hard work carried over to New Jersey and, after allowing a goal early in the first period, Montreal tallied three straight for the win. Benoit Pouliot and Cammalleri scored, while Mathieu Darche
picked up his first goal and an assist as a Canadien. Darche, a 33-year-old McGill University alumnus, was called up from the Bulldogs on Tuesday.
"Mathieu knows what works for him and it doesn't matter where he's used, whether on the fourth or second line -- he plays the same," coach Jacques Martin praised. "He's effective going to the net, winning some battles and providing good puck support."
"It feels great to get the win and the two points," goalie Jaroslav Halak said. "Even though they scored first, we kept battling and stuck to the game plan. The team was battling so I needed to do the same thing to keep the pucks out of the net, and the guys were great -- I saw most of the pucks."
Pouliot continues his great play for the Habs with eight goals in his last 10 games. Cammalleri has a goal in each of his last three games, while Brian Gionta
is riding a five-game point streak.
Rangers center Brandon Dubinsky
had three goals and two assists in the two games before Philly and had a Gordie Howe hat trick against the Lightning. Gaborik recorded six assists in those same games.
Habs defenseman Paul Mara left the Devils game with an injury and is questionable for Saturday. Left wing Sergei Kostitsyn (ankle) participated in full practice this week and could make his return on against the Rangers. His brother Andrei (left knee surgery) will be out until after the Olympics. … Rangers left wing Donald Brashear was out Thursday with a hamstring injury.
Montreal is second in the League on the power play at 24.2 percent, while the Rangers are fourth in the League on the penalty kill at 85.4 percent.
Given the importance of securing points for both these Original Six teams and their most recent heated affair, this game could prove to be one of the best of Saturday's matchups.