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Canadiens, Maple Leafs fight for playoff seeding

by Tal Pinchevsky

CANADIENS (38-26-7) at MAPLE LEAFS (36-27-8)


Last 10: Montreal 5-5-0; Toronto 4-5-1

Season series: The Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs will play for the fifth and final time in 2013-14. Toronto holds a 2-1-1 edge, winning 4-3 in the season opener Oct. 1 as well as 5-3 in Toronto on Jan. 18. Montreal won the two meetings at Bell Centre, 4-2 on Nov. 30 and 4-3 in overtime March 1.

Big story: Entering play Friday, Montreal was third in the Atlantic Division with 83 points while Toronto held the Eastern Conference's first wild-card spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 80 points. This game could play a major role in final playoff positioning.

Team Scope:

Canadiens: Montreal's three-game win streak was halted Thursday at home by the Columbus Blue Jackets. After that 3-2 loss, the Canadiens play seven of their next nine games away from home, although their 18-14-2 road record is one of the best in the Eastern Conference.

After missing more than a month with a shoulder injury, forward Brandon Prust appeared to find his stride with a goal and an assist in a 6-3 win against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday. However, he was ruled out Thursday against Columbus with an upper-body injury and the team announced Friday that he will sit out the remainder of the regular season. His injury could open the door for Rene Bourque, who has been a healthy scratch in the past five games but skated Friday on a line with Alex Galchenyuk and Brian Gionta.

"I think I just have to score. Just get myself in a position to shoot more," Bourque said. "I think when you don't score for a while you definitely grip the stick tighter. You're forcing a lot of plays."

Maple Leafs: Toronto has struggled since goaltender Jonathan Bernier went down with a groin injury March 13 against his former team, the Los Angeles Kings. James Reimer came on in relief and secured the 3-2 win but lost the next three games, allowing 11 goals and sporting an .882 save percentage.

Bernier skated Thursday with goaltending coach Rick St. Croix while the rest of the team had the day off, and then took part in practice Friday, giving Toronto hope that he could be back Saturday.

"We think [Bernier] is showing progress. To say that he is available for [Saturday], I can't tell you that right now," Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said after practice Friday. "That will be a decision we'll make more than likely [Saturday] afternoon."

Center Dave Bolland hasn't played since severing a tendon in his ankle Nov. 2, but he practiced Friday on a line with Mason Raymond and David Clarkson and could play against Montreal.

Who's hot: Forward Thomas Vanek has four goals in his past two games for Montreal while linemate Max Pacioretty has five points, all assists, in his past five games. Center Tomas Plekanec has an assist in three straight games. … Toronto defenseman Jake Gardiner has five goals in his past seven games.

Injury report: Prust (upper body) is out for Montreal while defenseman Josh Gorges (hand) is out until shortly before the playoffs start. … Defenseman Paul Ranger (head) is missing for the Maple Leafs and Bolland (ankle) and Bernier (groin) will be game-time decisions.

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