CANADIENS (35-29-6) at RANGERS (31-29-9)
Montreal 7-3-0; New York 5-3-2
This is the fourth and final meeting between the teams. Montreal has taken 2 of 3, including a 6-0 home victory on Jan. 23.
It's two hot teams fighting for the final few spots in the Eastern Conference. The Canadiens have won five straight and sit in a tie for sixth place with 76 points. The Rangers have won two straight and are in ninth place with 71 points, one back of the Boston Bruins for the eighth and final spot in the East.
No Mike Cammalleri
? No problem. Since the Habs lost their leading scorer during a 3-2 loss to Ottawa on Jan. 30, they've gone 10-4-0 to move into playoff contention. And even without Cammalleri, the Canadiens are scoring 3.3 goals per game, up nearly 0.8 on their season average before he was hurt.
It's resulted in a push up the Eastern ladder that has the Canadiens dreaming of the playoffs.
"Right now you feel like you're almost in the playoffs," defenseman Andrei Markov
said. "You understand you have to play well every shift, every moment. You're nervous before the game, but if you win, it's a great feeling."
After an embarrassing 6-3 loss to the Devils, the Rangers have strung together two impressive wins against the Thrashers and Flyers, two teams they are fighting for a playoff spot.
But the Rangers have shown signs of stringing together consistent play at times this season, only to fall into the bad habits that have plagued them. To make the playoffs, they will have to find a way to keep it together.
"These are desperate times for us," captain Chris Drury said. "Obviously every game is a big game and now we have to regroup and get ready for a real good Montreal team that is one of the hottest teams in the League."
Markov has been on fire since the restart of the season. He has 2 goals and 7 assists in the Canadiens' eight games since the end of the Olympics. … For the Rangers, Drury has 4 points in his last 2 games, all assists.
Besides Cammalleri (knee), the Canadiens will also be without defensemen Marc-Andre Bergeron (left) and Paul Mara (upper body). Mara could return this week. … The Rangers report no major injuries.
Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist
is 6-1-0 with a 1.86 GAA and a shutout in his last seven home starts versus Montreal. … Meanwhile, Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak is 1-3-0 with a 4.11 GAA in four starts at Madison Square Garden. … A win tonight would give the Candiens their first six-game winning streak since an eight-game run from March 23-April 6, 2006.
"We have been in the same position before," Lundqvist said. "Like I said, don't look too far ahead. Don't start thinking we have to win 10 out of 13 or something; we just have to win the next game."