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Devils-Canadiens Preview

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Having already moved into first place in the Northeast Division, the Montreal Canadiens are only one win away from taking over the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Canadiens look to ride the strong goaltending of rookie Carey Price to a third straight victory Saturday night when they host nemesis Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils.

Montreal (35-21-9) moved one point ahead of idle Ottawa into first place in the Northeast with a 6-2 victory Friday at Buffalo.

Tomas Plekanec scored three power-play goals for his first career hat trick, and Price stopped 31 shots as the Canadiens won for the sixth time in eight games.

"It was one of those nights when you got the puck in the offensive zone, it ended up in the net," Plekanec said. "The power play is really big for us right now."

Mark Streit had a goal and two assists, and Alex Kovalev set up four goals for Montreal, which tied idle Pittsburgh for second in the East, one point behind New Jersey.

The hotly-contested top spot in the Eastern Conference is once again up for grabs when Zach Parise and the New Jersey Devils visit Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday evening. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Since they were shut out 3-0 by Columbus' Pascal Leclaire last Saturday, the Canadiens have scored 11 goals in wins over Atlanta and Buffalo. Montreal has registered at least four goals in five of its past six games.

Plekanec matched a career high with four points after recording only one in his previous seven games. The third-year center has already set personal bests with 24 goals, 34 assists and 58 points.

Kovalev, the team leader with 67 points, had his first four-point game since Feb. 8, 2003, with Pittsburgh.

Price has been outstanding in two starts since Montreal traded Cristobal Huet to Washington, paving the way for the 20-year-old rookie to become the team's No. 1 goalie. Price has stopped 57 of 60 shots in those two games.

"He's playing solid," Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said. "Not that I see a big difference, but you can see he's more calm and really poised in the net."

New Jersey suffered its first regulation loss in 10 games Friday, falling 4-0 to visiting Washington.

The Devils, who own a one-point lead over Pittsburgh in the Atlantic, have followed a five-game win streak with back-to-back losses (0-1-1). They hadn't lost in regulation since a 2-1 defeat to Anaheim on Feb. 8.

"The last couple of games we haven't played 60 minutes, even though we snuck some points out," forward Brian Gionta said. "Tonight it caught up to us."

Brodeur, who stopped 25 shots in his 23rd consecutive start Friday, isn't likely to get a night off against the Canadiens, a team he has dominated lately.

The Devils had won nine straight against the Canadiens before Montreal scored three third-period goals in a 4-3 victory at New Jersey on Jan. 24. New Jersey has won four straight at Montreal since a 3-2 loss on March 20, 2004.

Brodeur, a Montreal native, is 9-1-0 with a 1.99 goals-against average in his last 10 starts against his hometown team. He had won nine in a row versus the Canadiens before the Jan. 24 loss.

Brodeur is 34-13-0 with five ties, a 1.75 GAA and eight shutouts in 52 starts against Montreal.

Devils leading scorer Zach Parise has five goals in his last five games against Montreal, including a hat trick in a 4-0 win on Nov. 30.

These teams have split two games this season - both in New Jersey.

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