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Canadiens hope to keep good thing going

by Adam Schwartz
The Montreal Canadiens ended their five-game losing streak Tuesday by beating the Atlanta Thrashers, 5-2, and Thursday night they look to continue in a positive direction when they face the Tampa Bay Lighting (7:30 p.m. ET, TSN, RDS).

The Canadiens enter Thursday's games with a two-point lead on the Florida Panthers for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.

The Panthers, who have lost three straight and seven of their last eight, will try to right the ship tonight in Philadelphia (7 p.m. ET, GCL). The Flyers have momentum on their side, having won three in a row, plus they're desperate to keep a firm hold on fourth place in the conference; they're currently one point ahead of the fifth-place Hurricanes and two ahead of the sixth-place Penguins.

In the West, the ever-tightening battle for the Northwest Division lead is highlighted as both the Flames and Canucks are in action. Calgary, which leads Vancouver by three points entering play, visits sixth-place Columbus (7 p.m. ET, GCL), while the Canucks are in St. Louis (8:30 p.m. ET, GCL). The Blues also are desperate for points; a win tonight could move them from 11th to eighth.

Other games tonight see the Rangers, who can tie the sixth-place Penguins with 88 points with a win tonight, in Atlanta; the Predators, one point out of a playoff spot, host the Sharks; the Stars in Dallas as both teams fight to stay on the fringes of playoff contention; and the Oilers are in Phoenix, where they'll try to hold onto the last postseason slot in the West.

Here's what to keep an eye out for:

* Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun, who has faced 1,717 shots -- the third-most shots in the Eastern Conference -- has won just one of his last eight starts, and has faced more than 35 shots in four games during that span. Vokoun has a 1-0-1 record and a 1.92 goals-against average in two games against the Flyers this season.

* The Rangers, who have the best penalty kill in the League at 87.5 percent, have allowed just 1 power-play goal in their last 15 penalty kills.

* Calgary center Daymond Langkow, who has 4 points in seven games since coming back from a hand injury that saw him miss nine games, is just one goal shy of recording his seventh straight 20-goal season. Langkow, who averaged 18:49 of ice time playing on a line with Jarome Iginla last season, is averaging 17:08 of ice time this season skating with different linemates.

* Canadiens right wing Alexei Kovalev, who had the second-highest scoring season of his career last season with 84 points, has just 51 this season and has been held pointless in six of his last nine games. Kovalev, who has just 1 third-period goal this season, has 49 points but a minus-7 rating in 60 career games against Tampa Bay.

* Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne has the third-best goals-against average in the League at 2.23. Rinne, who is 4-1-3 in March, stopped 36 of 38 shots March 19 in a 3-2 shootout loss in his only career game against the Sharks.

* Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa is one assist shy of his second 30-assist season. Bieksa, who leads Vancouver players with an average ice time of 23:44 per game, has 17 of his 40 points in the third period.

* Dallas center Steve Ott, who is second on the team with 126 penalty minutes, had a goal and an assist in his last game against the Kings. Ott, who had just 5 goals and 13 points in 29 games before the All-Star break, has 11 goals and 24 points in 26 games since then.

* Oilers center Sam Gagner had 36 assists and 49 points in 79 games as a rookie last season, but has just 21 assists and 35 points in 67 games this season. Gagner, who had just 4 goals and 17 points in 43 games prior to the All-Star break, has 8 goals and 15 points in his last 11 games.

* Philadelphia left wing Simon Gagne, who scored Monday to reach the 30-goal mark for the fourth time in his career, has 17 goals and 28 points in 30 career games against the Panthers, including 2 goals in two games this season. Gagne has 6 goals and 14 points in his last 11 games.

* Blue Jackets center Jason Williams, who had 18 points and a minus-9 rating in 41 games with the Thrashers before being traded to Columbus, has 21 points and a plus-6 rating in 30 games with the Blue Jackets. He has 9 points in 11 games in March.

* San Jose defenseman Douglas Murray, who rang the opening bell at the New York Mercantile Exchange in 2006, leads the team with 155 hits. Murray, who had 98 penalty minutes in 66 games last season, has just 28 penalty minutes in 66 games this season.

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