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Canadiens-Lightning could be playoff preview

by Davis Harper

CANADIENS (43-26-7) at LIGHTNING (41-25-9)


Last 10: Montreal 8-2-0; Tampa Bay 7-1-2

Season series: This is the fourth and final game of an extremely tight series between these Atlantic Division rivals. All three previous games needed at least overtime -- and two went to a shootout -- with the Tampa Bay Lightning holding a 2-0-1 series edge.

Big story: Fans will get a potential Stanley Cup Playoff preview Tuesday night when the Montreal Canadiens (second in Atlantic; 93 points in 76 games) face the Lightning (third in Atlantic; 91 points in 75 games). With a handful of games remaining, the Canadiens and Lightning are likely to face one another in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

Before that, there is Tuesday: The Canadiens take aim at a season-high sixth straight win, while the Lightning are gunning for their opponent's second-place divisional standing (and home-ice advantage).

Montreal can clinch a playoff berth with a win or by getting a point and some help. Tampa Bay can clinch with a win and some help.

Team Scope:

Canadiens: The postseason implications are not lost on Montreal coach Michel Therrien, who insists his players are abiding by his game-by-game philosophy.

"We're not looking too far ahead. We have to go one game at a time. That's been our philosophy all season. We're on a good swing right now. … We have to continue in that direction," Therrien told the team website after practice Monday. "We can make predictions about what's going to happen two weeks down the road, but what matters to me are the way we play and act, our focus and our execution."

Defenseman P.K. Subban echoed his coach and gave Tampa Bay credit for its competitive spirit, a trait especially obvious this season against the Canadiens.

"It’s a big game," Subban said. "One thing I think that's impressive about their team is just how resilient they are, playing through injuries and having guys in and out of the lineup. Even when they're missing key players, they find a way to win."

Lightning: While Therrien begged off any extra consideration for the Lightning, Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper admitted it was an important game.

"It's hard not to put emphasis on the game because we're, what, two points behind them?," Cooper told the team website. "I don't know how things are going to play out in the end here, but beating them would sure be a nice rallying point for out team. … A four-point game? That's what that one is."

The Lightning could clinch a playoff berth Tuesday with a win and a Washington Capitals regulation loss. Captain Steven Stamkos assured reporters that his team is simply looking to collect maximum points.

"We're fighting with them for home ice," Stamkos said. "It's going to be a playoff atmosphere. … We're not worried about the playoffs now, we're just worried about playing hockey and getting as many points to finish as high as we can."

Who's hot: Canadiens leading scorer Max Pacioretty has four goals and an assist over a three-game point streak. … Lightning center Valtteri Filppula has 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) over a 12-game point streak.

Injury report: Canadiens forward Tomas Plekanec is back in the lineup after missing the game Friday for undisclosed reasons. Forward Travis Moen (concussion), forward Dale Weise (hand) and defenseman Josh Gorges (hand) are day-to-day. Forward Brandon Prust (upper body) is out for the season. … Tampa Bay reports no injuries.

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