The Montreal Canadiens open a four-game road trip knowing no team in their conference has more points than they do. The San Jose Sharks can't make the same claim, but they'll return from a lengthy trip feeling awfully good.
San Jose looks to extend its season-high winning streak to six games Monday when it faces Montreal in its first home game since Feb. 14.
The Sharks (36-21-8) dropped the first three contests of their eight-game trip, falling in succession to the New York Rangers, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils. Once they left the New York City area, however, they didn't lose again, closing the trip on a 5-0 surge that was capped by Saturday's 2-0 win over St. Louis.
"We played pretty close to perfect," coach Ron Wilson told the team's official Web site. "Considering this is the last game of an eight-game road trip and having to play back-to-back nights, I thought we had a great effort."
The surprising part of the win over the Blues wasn't the strong defensive performance - the Sharks have allowed the second-fewest goals in the league with 155 - but rather, the goaltender who earned the shutout.
Brian Boucher, signed as a free agent Tuesday to back up Western Conference wins leader Evgeni Nabokov, stopped 24 shots to earn his first victory since March 3, 2007.
"Whatever I can do here, I'm thrilled to be back in the NHL," said Boucher, a first-round draft pick in 1995 who had four shutouts in the AHL this season. "If I can go in there and give Nabby some rest some nights and they have the confidence to do that, then great."
Nabokov had been in net for all of San Jose's wins this season, posting six shutouts and a 2.17 goals-against average that's among the top five in the league. He was 4-2-0 with a 1.87 GAA on the trip.
Offensively, the Sharks have struggled all season - Milan Michalek is the team's only 20-goal scorer - but they've gotten a boost lately from Joe Pavelski. The 23-year-old center has scored a goal in his last three games.
Scoring hasn't been much of a problem for Montreal (36-21-9), which is opening a four-game swing against Pacific Division opponents. The Canadiens are among the top three teams in the NHL with 3.11 goals per game.
They've been even better recently, scoring 13 goals in their last three games while allowing only four. Montreal, though, didn't need big production to get past New Jersey on Saturday, winning 2-1 to move into the top spot in the Eastern Conference before Sunday's action.
"It is a pleasant surprise for us and for a lot of people," center Saku Koivu said. "There were some question marks for this team because of the young players coming from the minors, but those guys have done an excellent job coming in here and wanting a big role, not being happy just to be in the lineup."
One of the most important young players is the goaltender Montreal will count on as it tries to secure home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. The Canadiens dealt former All-Star Cristobal Huet to Washington prior to the trade deadline, leaving 20-year-old rookie Carey Price as the team's No. 1 netminder.
The strong play of the fifth overall pick in 2005 made Montreal comfortable in trading Huet, and Price has embraced the opportunity, winning all three starts and posting a 1.33 GAA since Huet departed.
Forward Alexei Kovalev continues to produce offensively for Canadiens, with four goals and 10 assists in his last nine games to give him 29 goals and 39 assists on the season.
Exactly four years will have passed since Montreal's last game in San Jose, a 4-3 Sharks win on March 3, 2004.