An outstanding road record last season helped the Montreal Canadiens to the Eastern Conference's top seed. Their current problems away from the Bell Centre, however, are complicating their playoff aspirations.
The Canadiens look to regroup on their three-game trip Friday night against an Atlanta Thrashers team that's struggled in its own building.
Montreal (34-23-7) finished first in the East in 2007-08 with a conference-best 25-12-4 mark away from home. It did, however, lose four of five road games in the playoffs before getting eliminated by Philadelphia in the second round.
Those problems appear to have extended into the regular season, as the Canadiens are 14-17-3 as visitors.
Montreal headed into the opener of its three-game trip riding a four-game winning streak overall, but couldn't get anything past Buffalo backup Patrick Lalime until Tomas Plekanec scored with 66 seconds left in regulation in an eventual 5-1 defeat Tuesday night.
Entering Friday, the Canadiens are one of seven teams separated by seven points in the race for the final five playoff spots in the East.
"If we can't adjust to play on the road, then we don't deserve to be in the playoffs," said coach Guy Carbonneau, whose team plays seven of its remaining 18 away from Montreal.
The Canadiens are 2-10-1 in their last 13 on the road, a stretch that started with a 4-2 loss to the Thrashers at Philips Arena on Jan. 20. These teams have split two meetings this season, but Montreal is 6-3-1 in its last 10 in Atlanta.
While improved play on the road is sure to help the Canadiens' postseason push, the Thrashers' problems at home have contributed to a 14th-place standing in the East and a season without the playoffs for the eighth time in nine years.
Atlanta owns an NHL-low 24 points at home with an 11-18-2 record there.
On Tuesday night, the Thrashers (23-35-6) held a 2-1 lead after one period before giving up three goals in the second en route to a 4-3 loss to Florida.
"We messed up a few times but the goals that were scored on us were because our forwards didn't pick up the lead coming into the second period," coach John Anderson said.
Captain Ilya Kovalchuk, the Thrashers' top scorer with 72 points, continued his offensive surge Tuesday with his team-leading 35th goal. He has 14 goals and eight assists in his last 11 games.
Kovalchuk also has seven goals and 12 assists in 26 contests against the Canadiens.
Reaching the playoffs could be difficult for Montreal if goaltender Carey Price doesn't improve.
Price, likely to start Friday with Jaroslav Halak day-to-day with the flu, is 2-0-1 with a 2.18 goals-against average in four career games against the Thrashers. He hasn't had anything close to that kind of success lately, though, going 0-5-1 with a 4.52 GAA in his last seven overall after finishing with 22 saves Tuesday - his first start since Feb. 19.
Defenseman Mathieu Schneider, meanwhile, will be making his first appearance against Atlanta since he was traded to Montreal on Feb. 16. He has three goals and three assists in seven games since leaving the Thrashers.