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Desperate Canadiens and Leafs renew hostilities

by Tal Pinchevsky

CANADIENS (17-21-9) at MAPLE LEAFS (23-18-5)


Last 10: Montreal 3-5-2; Toronto 5-4-1

Season Series: This is the third of six meetings between these Original Six rivals. The teams opened their seasons against one another, with the Leafs winning 2-0, and Toronto took their last meeting 5-4 in overtime on Oct. 22. They will also face off in their respective season finales on Apr. 7.

Big Story: Neither team has managed to maintain any traction of late in their quest to make the postseason. Montreal did earn three out of four potential points in a crucial weekend set against the Senators and Rangers, but has gone 1-3-2 in their last six games. After a four-game winning streak to start the new year, Toronto lost three straight before topping the Wild on Thursday.

Team Scope:

Canadiens: The Canadiens have been up and down since adopting new coach Randy Cunneyworth's aggressive forecheck. They looked strong in beating the first-place Rangers 4-1 on Sunday but couldn't score in a 3-0 loss against the Capitals on Wednesday despite firing 31 shots at Michal Neuvirth.

Against the Penguins on Friday, Max Pacioretty's second-period goal gave the Canadiens a 4-2 lead. But Dustin Jeffrey scored early in the third period and Evgeni Malkin's marker with 2:43 remaining in regulation tied the game. Malkin provided more late-game heroics when he scored the lone shootout goal, giving the Penguins a come-from-behind 5-4 victory. It was the second time in two months that the Penguins had come back from a two-goal deficit against Montreal to win in extra time.

"It wasn't nearly enough for a team hanging around for a playoff push," Pacioretty said of leaving Pittsburgh with one point instead of two.

Maple Leafs: Toronto looked great to open January, winning four straight games and sweeping a four-game homestand by a combined score of 17-6. But the Leafs followed that streak by losing three straight, including the first two games in a season-long five game homestand against the Rangers and Senators, two teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings.

Against the Wild on Thursday, Nazem Kadri opened the scoring just 50 seconds into the game. It was the first of four unanswered goals for the Leafs, who dismantled a struggling Minnesota team in a 4-1 win that saw them outshoot the Wild 33-21. Joffrey Lupul led the scoring surge for the Leafs with three assists, helping the Leafs snap their three-game losing skid. Back in net after James Reimer got the start against Ottawa on Tuesday, Jonas Gustavsson had to make only 20 saves for the win.

Who's Hot: For the Canadiens, Erik Cole has five points in his last three games and Pacioretty has five points in his last four contests. … Lupul has four points in his last two games with the Leafs while Mikhail Grabovski has eight points in his last eight games.

Injury Report: Brian Gionta (right bicep surgery) and Andrei Markov (right knee) remain on IR for the Canadiens while Ryan White (sports hernia surgery) has started skating with the team. … Colby Armstrong and John-Michael Liles are both on Leafs' IR with concussions while Darryl Boyce is questionable with back spasms.

Stat Pack: If this game goes into extra time, the Canadiens will likely hope to avoid the shootout. Montreal is 1-7 in the tiebreaker this season and Carey Price has stopped just 10 of 20 shooters. What's more, Montreal shooters have netted just four goals in 26 attempts, among the worst percentages in the League. Of the 12 Habs who have participated in the shootout this season, only three have scored. Gionta, who's nowhere near returning has two of the shootout goals.

Puck Drop: This matchup could be won and lost with special teams. The Leafs' fourth-ranked power play will be facing off against a Montreal penalty kill that ranks second in the League. And in what will likely be a less-impressive matchup, Toronto's penalty kill and Montreal's power play both rank dead last -- though the Habs did score with the extra man on Friday.

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