The Montreal Canadiens failed to take over the Eastern Conference lead over the weekend, but they're hoping to move ahead of the New Jersey Devils for the top spot when the teams finish their regular-season series on Tuesday night at Bell Centre.
Montreal (38-23-9) opens a four-game homestand after going 2-2-0 on a road trip that concluded Sunday with a 3-1 loss to Anaheim. Alex Kovalev scored his team-leading 30th goal and rookie Carey Price made 34 saves for the Canadiens, who gave up two third-period goals, including one short-handed.
"It's tough to give up a goal in the third period. It's even tougher to give up two, because you know you were so close the whole game," Price said.
Price, who assumed the No. 1 role after Cristobal Huet was traded to Washington late last month, is 4-2-0 with a 2.51 goals-against average in his last six starts.
The Canadiens, two points ahead of Ottawa in the Northeast Division, are 9-4-0 since a three-game skid from Feb. 7-12. Montreal hopes to build on this recent surge and return to the playoffs for the third time in four seasons after missing out in 2006-07.
Before reaching the postseason, however, Montreal will look to beat New Jersey (40-23-6), which maintained its one-point lead in East with the Canadiens' most recent defeat.
The Canadiens hope to win the season series from the Devils for the first time since taking two of three contests in 1992-93 en route to their last Stanley Cup title.
Montreal posted a 2-1 home victory on March 1 in the teams' most recent meeting, giving it back-to-back wins against the Devils for the first time since Nov. 11, 1992-Jan. 20, 1993. The Canadiens haven't won than two straight in the all-time series since a four-game run, spanning two seasons from Oct. 10, 1988-Oct. 13, 1989.
It might be hard for the Canadiens to move closer to that mark with Martin Brodeur in net for the Devils. Brodeur made 42 saves in his 27th straight start Saturday, leading New Jersey to a 2-1 victory at Toronto.
Zach Parise scored his second goal of the game with 48.3 seconds left in regulation for the Devils, winners of three straight.
New Jersey, one point in front of Pittsburgh in the Atlantic Division, is heading toward its 11th consecutive playoff appearance.
Brodeur, who has stopped 104 of 107 shots during the Devils' win streak, is 12-3-3 with a 1.91 GAA in 18 starts since Feb. 2.
"Marty, obviously, has been unbelievable," Parise said on the Devils' official Web site prior to Monday's practice. "He's one of the main reasons we are where we are. We like the way we've been playing, and the way we've been winning games lately."
Brodeur is 1-2-0 with a 2.02 GAA and a shutout in three games versus Montreal this season. He is 34-14-0 with five ties, eight shutouts and a 1.76 GAA in 53 all-time meetings.
The Montreal native, who had won four straight games at Bell Centre prior to that March 1 loss, is 14-11-0 with a tie, four shutouts and a 1.77 GAA in 26 starts in his hometown.
Parise - the team leader with 30 goals - has five during a three-game goal-scoring streak. However, he has been kept off the scoresheet in the last two games against the Canadiens since he had a hat trick in the Devils' November win.