ISLANDERS (28-32-11) at CANADIENS (28-32-12)
TV: CBC, RDS (HD), MSG PLUS
New York 2-5-3; Montreal 4-4-2
This is the fourth and final matchup this season between two teams battling to avoid the Eastern Conference basement. Montreal has won two of the previous three meetings, including the last meeting on Feb. 9, in which Scott Gomez
's first goal in over a year proved to be the winner in a 5-3 Montreal victory on Long Island.
Just a week ago, talk among Montreal hockey fans was how the team might earn their highest draft pick since the Canadiens selected Carey Price
fifth overall in 2005. But improved play buoyed by the season debut of star defenseman Andrei Markov
has the Canadiens posting a 3-0-1 record in their last four games. The Islanders are going the other way -- they've lost five straight and dropped into last in the East.
After winning two games in 24 hours over likely playoff teams Boston and New Jersey two weeks ago, the hope was that the Islanders could shake off a 1-4-1 slide and make one final push towards the playoffs. But their five-game losing streak has dashed fans' hopes for the first Islanders' postseason appearance since 2007.
After three excruciating one-goal losses in which they blew leads each time, the Islanders fell behind Philadelphia 3-0 on Thursday, only to rally on third-period goals by Michael Grabner and John Tavares 35 seconds apart. But it wasn't enough, as the Flyers left Long Island with a 3-2 win -- sending the Isles out for a five-game trip with an 0-3-2 mark in their last five games.
"We saw how when we forecheck how successful we can be," captain Mark Streit said. "But 10 minutes out of 60 minutes is just not enough against a team like Philadelphia."
Canadiens: After missing the entire season following knee surgery, Markov returned to the Canadiens' lineup last week and made his season debut last Saturday in Montreal's impressive 4-1 win at Vancouver. The Habs lost in overtime to the Sabres two nights later before topping the Senators 3-2 in a shootout in the first half of a home-and-home.
Markov sat out Friday's return match in Ottawa with an upper-body injury, but the Canadiens got a point against the Senators, thanks mostly to Carey Price's 31 saves against just 14 Montreal shots. The Habs looked like they might be able to steal two points from Ottawa, but Colin Greening tied the game 1-1 at 6:27 into the third period before Filip Kuba gave Ottawa the win on the only shot either team could muster in overtime.
Who's Hot: Streit has four assists in his current three-game point streak for the Islanders while John Tavares has five goals in his last four games. … For Montreal, Max Pacioretty has five goals and seven assists in his last eight games while P.K. Subban has nine points in his last 10 games.
Injury Report: Other than goaltender Rick DiPietro, who is on IR and gone for the season following sports hernia surgery, the Islanders have a healthy lineup. … The Canadiens have Brian Gionta (bicep surgery), Raphael Diaz (lower body), Mathieu Darche (upper body), and Travis Moen (upper body) on IR while Markov and Gomez are questionable for Saturday.
Stat Pack: After Grabner and Matt Moulson both hit the 30-goal mark last season, the Islanders again feature two 30-goal scorers this season in Moulson and Tavares. It marks the first time the Islanders have had multiple 30-goal scorers in consecutive seasons since 1992-93 and 1993-94. Both those seasons, the Islanders boasted four 30-goal scorers, including Pierre Turgeon, who notched 58 in '92-93.
Puck Drop: With his shorthanded goal against Ottawa on Friday, Tomas Plekanec gave Montreal three players, along with Lars Eller and Mathieu Darche, with at least two shorties. Only New Jersey, who boasts five players with at least two shorthanded goals, has more.