CANADIENS (43-30-7) at SENATORS (31-39-10)
TV: RDS (HD), CBC (HD)
Montreal 5-5-0; Ottawa 6-3-1
Sixth and final meeting of the season between these Northeast Division rivals. Montreal has won four of five, including both previous matchups in Ottawa by a 10-1 combined score. That includes a 7-1 rout in the most recent game on Jan. 21, with Tomas Plekanec
scoring a pair of goals. Carey Price
has a 1.61 goals-against average and .939 save percentage for the Canadiens, including a 19-save shutout effort in a 3-0 victory on Oct. 23 at Scotiabank Place.
Montreal will be part of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fourth straight season after clinching its Eastern Conference berth with an overtime win against Chicago on Tuesday. The Canadiens have this game and a Saturday date against the Maple Leafs in Toronto remaining and could finish sixth, seventh or eighth depending on how things shake out.
Locking up a playoff berth against Chicago figured to be a challenge, because like Montreal, the Blackhawks' place in the postseason still wasn't settled when the teams met Tuesday at the Bell Centre. While it remains to be seen whether the defending champs will get the opportunity to repeat, the Canadiens secured their spot in the big dance when P.K. Subban
scored a power-play goal 1:19 into the extra period for a 2-1 victory. Price stopped 42 shots.
"We've got a few things to work on, and right now is obviously the perfect opportunity to do that," Price said. "We've got some time to iron things out and really get ourselves prepared for the next stage."
It's probably a good thing for Montreal that a spot in the postseason is no longer in doubt, because Ottawa has been picking up plenty of points lately at the expense of contending teams. Philadelphia, which is battling for the East's top seed, was the victim on Tuesday. A pair of Mike Richards goals helped the Flyers to a 2-1 lead, but the Senators roared back with four unanswered to claim a 5-2 victory. Jason Spezza
scored on the power play and set up three other goals.
"They're probably the best team in the East and it's a big challenge for us," Spezza said. "I think the game probably means more to us than it does to them and these are important games for us to gain confidence. I think we accomplished that tonight and it feels good to get the win."
Subban has goals in three straight games for the Canadiens. Mike Cammalleri
has 2 goals and 3 assists during a four-game points streak. Price has won three of his last four starts and given up just a single goal in each instance. … Spezza is on a tear, registering 8 goals and 12 assists in his last 13 games for the Senators.
Montreal forward Jeff Halpern and defenseman Alexandre Picard have been sidelined with lower-body injuries. Forward Max Pacioretty
(concussion/fractured vertebra) and defenseman Jaroslav Spacek
(knee) are on injured reserve. … Ottawa is without goalie Pascal Leclaire (hip), defensemen Matt Carkner
(knee), Sergei Gonchar
(concussion) and Erik Karlsson
(thigh laceration) and forwards Daniel Alfredsson
(back), Peter Regin
(shoulder) and Marek Svatos (concussion).
Price set a new single-season record for appearances by a Canadiens goalie with 71, passing both Gerry McNeil and Jacques Plante. His 37 wins are the most for a season since Ken Dryden in 1977-78. … The Senators have used four different goalies against the Habs this season: Brian Elliott, who's now with the Avalanche, Leclaire and rookies Robin Lehner
and Mike Brodeur. Craig Anderson
, acquired in exchange for Elliott, could become the fifth if he plays Thursday.
Even though Montreal won't have home ice in the first round, expectations will be high after the team advanced all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals last season as an eight seed. Price thinks they gained confidence from their performance against Chicago.
"That's definitely a confidence booster for a hockey team; we earned our way in and we didn't just fall into the playoffs," he said. "We can enjoy it now and then we'll take the next two games to prepare for the real challenge. We all knew what was on the line and we all wanted to win our way into the playoffs. Our fate was in our own hands and we got the job done."