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Islanders-Canadiens Preview @NHL

The Montreal Canadiens already showed positive signs in their first game under new coach Bob Gainey.

If they can keep the momentum going as they play eight of their next nine at home, they shouldn't have a problem ensuring the franchise a playoff berth in its centennial season.

The Canadiens will aim for a fifth straight home victory on Thursday night when they meet the New York Islanders, who have won one road game since Thanksgiving.

Even though Montreal was coming off Sunday's 3-1 win at Dallas - its fifth victory in seven games - coach Guy Carbonneau was fired Monday due greatly to a 3-11-1 stretch from Jan. 20-Feb. 19 which nearly dropped the Canadiens out of the playoff picture.

General manager Bob Gainey took over as coach, and the club responded Tuesday night with a 4-3 win over Edmonton as captain Saku Koivu tied the game with 4:35 to play in regulation before scoring on the power play 1:40 into overtime.

"He really brings a calming demeanor into the locker room," Montreal goalie Carey Price said of Gainey. "He's kind of like the more strong, silent type, whenever he does say something you really have to listen because you know it's going to be something important."

The win vaulted the Canadiens (36-24-7) into fifth place in the Eastern Conference, but with six points separating fifth and 10th in the standings, they still have plenty of work to do to secure a playoff spot.

A confident Price figures to be a key for the Canadiens, and the 21-year-old goalie appears to have rebounded from a brutal midseason slump. Price is 2-1-0 with a 1.66 goals-against average in his last three starts, on the heels of a 2-9-1 slump during which he had a 4.02 GAA.

The team's current stretch of home games should also help considering Montreal is 21-6-4 at the Bell Centre this season, including four straight wins and a 12-2-1 record in its last 15 home games.

Surprisingly, Montreal is one of the few road destinations where the Islanders have won this season, with a 4-3 shootout victory on Nov. 24. But since then, New York is 1-19-2 on the road, including a 3-2 overtime loss at Toronto on Tuesday night in the opener of a six-game road trip.

The Islanders (22-37-8) continue to maintain the NHL's worst record, but a stretch of solid play at home has helped them go 4-1-1 in their last six overall and 10-8-3 since Jan. 21.

"I look at it as two seasons," Islanders coach Scott Gordon said. "The first half was obviously very frustrating in that we lost our No. 1 goaltender (Rick DiPietro) and ... all the other injuries. The second half has been a breath of fresh air. Our guys have responded and what we hoped would happen in the first half is now happening in the second half."

New York has been boosted by a number of young players, including 2006 first-round draft pick Kyle Okposo, who has scored a goal in three consecutive games.

While goalie Joey MacDonald played against the Maple Leafs, Yann Danis could return to the crease for the Islanders on Thursday. Danis, who is 4-2-0 with a 1.51 GAA and a .952 save percentage in his last six starts, grew up outside of Montreal and briefly played for the Canadiens during the 2005-06 season.

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