GAME: Montreal Canadiens (39-27-9) at Ottawa Senators (50-17-8).
TIME: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. EDT.
By putting together their longest winning streak in more than 13 years, the Montreal Canadiens moved into position to make the playoffs. Keeping it going may show how worthy they truly are of being in the postseason.
Montreal seeks an eighth consecutive victory as it visits the Eastern Conference-leading Ottawa Senators in a matchup of Northeast Division teams.
The Canadiens are in seventh place in the East, two points behind New Jersey for sixth and two points ahead of Tampa Bay for eighth.
Montreal, enjoying its longest winning streak since an eight-game run from Oct. 24-Nov. 11, 1992, made its climb into playoff contention on the backs of the lesser teams in the East. Six wins during the streak came at home, and the Canadiens defeated Boston twice, Toronto twice, Pittsburgh, Washington and the New York Islanders - all teams which are unlikely to make the playoffs.
Montreal's schedule toughens substantially for the final seven games, featuring two games each against the Senators, Devils and Buffalo Sabres.
Center Chris Higgins has thrived playing between Saku Koivu and Michael Ryder, and the rookie delivered again Tuesday in a 5-3 win over Boston. Higgins snapped a tie with 14:31 to play for his second game-winning goal in four games.
"I've been saying all along, it's just my linemates, I'm telling you," said Higgins, who is tied for second on the team with 20 goals. "I'm very grateful to have an opportunity to play with these guys."
Cristobal Huet stopped 26 shots for the Canadiens, and is 6-0 with a 1.32 goals-against average and two shutouts during the win streak.
Ottawa leads Carolina by two points for the Eastern Conference lead, but the Senators also have one game in hand on the Hurricanes.
Coach Bryan Murray's team squandered a late lead and settled for one point in a 5-4 overtime loss Wednesday to Buffalo.
The Senators have been shuffling defensemen, playing without top blueliners Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden, Anton Volchenkov and Chris Phillips. Chara, Volchenkov and Phillips are injured, while Redden has missed the past four games to be with his ailing mother in Saskatchewan.
"I thought our guys played well on the blue line ... people who don't play very much stepped up," Murray said. "It's just unfortunate that (the tying goal) happened at the end of regulation the way it did."
There was some positive health news for the Senators as center Mike Fisher and right wing Daniel Alfredsson returned to the lineup Wednesday. Fisher had missed nine games with an ankle injury, and Alfredsson netted his career-high 40th goal after missing Monday's game with the flu.
Alfredsson has 60 points in 47 career games against the Canadiens, including five goals and four assists in five games this season.
STANDINGS: Canadiens - 87 points, 3rd place, 21 PB, Northeast Division. Senators - 108 points, 1st place, Northeast Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Canadiens - Ryder, 29 goals; Koivu, 41 assists and 57 points; Todd Simpson, 125 PIM. Senators - Dany Heatley, 45 goals and 93 points; Spezza, 63 assists; Chris Neil, 174 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Canadiens - Power play: 19.5 percent (84 for 431), 5th in NHL. Penalty killing: 80.8 percent (365 for 452), 23rd. Senators - Power play: 21.2 percent (95 for 447), 2nd. Penalty killing: 85.5 percent (382 for 447), 4th.
GOALTENDERS: Canadiens - Huet (18-8-4, 7 SO, 2.09 GAA); David Aebischer (26-16-2, 3, 3.12). Senators - Ray Emery (22-7-3, 3, 2.58); Mike Morrison (10-4-2, 2.80).
SEASON SERIES: Senators, 4-1-1.
LAST MEETING: Jan. 26; Senators, 3-0. At Kanata, Ont., Alfredsson scored power-play goals 3:55 apart in the second period, and Dominik Hasek needed to make just 12 saves for his 68th career shutout.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Canadiens - 16-17-5 on the road; Senators - 28-7-2 at home.