THRASHERS (32-31-12) at CANADIENS (40-29-7)
TV: RDS (HD), FS-S (HD)
Atlanta 6-3-1; Montreal 4-6-0
The Thrashers have taken two of three from Montreal so far this season, but the Habs won their most recent meeting, 3-1, on March 1.
Atlanta is essentially facing do-or-die games every night in hopes of keeping its postseason alive, and that may not be easy against Montreal, which has struggled lately -- and is perilously close to dropping to the eighth spot in the East.
After a rough second half, the sun seems set to go down in Atlanta fairly soon. The Thrashers are nine points out of the final playoff spot with just seven games to play and are teetering on the brink of elimination. Despite the doom and gloom, Atlanta has managed to win three of its last five games, but Tuesday's visit to Montreal will open a crucial five-game road swing that could be the undoing of a team that has just one regulation win since Feb. 11.
That trip will also take the Thrashers to Philadelphia, Boston, Nashville and finally New York, and it's very possible that by the time they reach Boston this Saturday their hopes will have been snuffed out, but Atlanta has continued to plug away. Sunday's shootout win over Ottawa required holding off two separate comebacks by the Senators before captain Andrew Ladd's shootout winner finished them off, and it also featured a career highlight for ex-Canadien Ben Maxwell, who notched his first career goal and assist.
The Habs have been slipping after a hot streak had them chasing the Bruins atop the Northeast Division earlier this month. Those hopes of a division title have been replaced by a need not even to prevent a fall in the standings -- though the Canadiens are just two points above eighth-place Buffalo -- but simply to score a goal. In its last win, Montreal was propelled by a hat trick from defenseman P.K. Subban
in an impressive 8-1 win over Minnesota.
The Canadiens, it seems, might have wanted to save some of those goals for later. The Habs haven't scored in an almost incomprehensible three straight games since, and with Buffalo and the Rangers very quickly creeping up on them in the East's playoff field, Montreal could soon find itself in the eighth spot with a first-round date with Philadelphia or Washington.
For Montreal, it's hard to locate a productive player on a team that hasn't lit the lamp in three games. Even goalie Carey Price
has struggled, giving up a total of eight goals in his last three appearances. … Atlanta's Bryan Little has crafted a three-game points streak.
Despite a facial laceration, Eric Boulton still managed to play for the Thrashers Sunday against Ottawa. … Montreal could be without defenseman Alexandre Picard, who hasn't played since March 22 and is questionable with a foot injury.
Montreal had been shut out five times this season before its recent offensive struggles, but what makes the scoring drought even more surprising is that the Habs hadn't been shut out in a game in nearly three months before the offensive well dried up. Their last blanking had been a 3-0 loss to Washington on Dec. 28.
It would be surprising for Atlanta to pull off a miracle rally to the postseason, but any hopes of doing the impossible would have to start right away. Doing so against a team that can't bury the biscuit could help, but the Canadiens, badly in need of a win and a confidence boost ahead of the postseason, should be just as desperate when two face off.