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Lightning-Canadiens Preview @NHLdotcom

GAME: Tampa Bay Lightning (33-27-4) at Montreal Canadiens (31-23-9).

TIME: Monday, 7:30 p.m. EST.

The Montreal Canadiens' Cristobal Huet may be playing better than any goaltender in the NHL right now.

Huet is expected to be in net to try for his third consecutive shutout when the Canadiens host the struggling Tampa Bay Lightning.

Huet made 26 saves and Craig Rivet scored as Montreal defeated the New York Rangers 1-0 on Saturday. Huet stopped 28 shots in a 3-0 win over Boston on Thursday, and hasn't allowed a goal in 131 minutes, 19 seconds.

"Huey has just been outstanding and the confidence he's playing with is oozing into the rest of the team," Rivet said. "We go into every game knowing that he'll come up with the big saves."

Huet's performances have come just days after the Canadiens dealt goalie Jose Theodore, the 2001-02 NHL MVP, to Colorado for goaltender David Aebischer just before the NHL trade deadline.

"Abby is a great goalie and a competitor too," said Huet, who has helped the Canadiens move past the Lightning into seventh place in the Eastern Conference. "Right now, I played this game but I know that I'm going to have to earn my job. And besides, I'm sure he's going to be ready to play and that can only be good news for the team."

Aebischer gives Montreal coach Bob Gainey another hot goaltender to call upon. The former top goalie for the Avalanche has won five of his last seven starts with one shutout and a 2.13 goals-against average during that span.

The Canadiens will try for their fourth consecutive win over the Lightning as they attempt to qualify for the playoffs for two straight seasons for the first time since 1996-98.

The Lightning are looking to avoid a three-game losing streak and their sixth loss in seven games. Their only win during the 1-5 stretch came in a shootout over last-place Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

Tampa Bay lost 5-1 to Toronto on Saturday, falling into the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.

"We know we are desperate. We know it's crunch time," Tampa Bay goaltender Sean Burke said. "We don't need to be told."

The Lightning have been outscored 35-14 in their last six games, as goaltending has become an issue for them.

John Grahame has been pulled in two of his last four starts and has a 6.05 GAA and .756 save percentage over that stretch, but has the team's only win in the last six games.

Burke has not fared any better, going 0-3 with 5.13 GAA and .810 save percentage in four appearances.

STANDINGS: Lightning - 70 points, 2nd place, 22 PB, Southeast Division. Canadiens - 71 points, 3rd place, 20 PB, Northeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Lightning - Vincent Lecavalier, 27 goals; Brad Richards, 48 assists and 67 points; Pavel Kubina, 82 PIM. Canadiens - Michael Ryder, 24 goals; Saku Koivu, 31 assists; Alexei Kovalev, 47 points; Steve Begin, 101 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Lightning - Power play: 15.2 percent (58 for 381), 26th in NHL. Penalty killing: 82.4 percent (257 for 312), 16th. Canadiens - Power play: 19.1 percent (67 for 351), 7th. Penalty killing: 81.2 percent (323 for 398), 21st.

GOALTENDERS: Lightning - Grahame (23-17-1, 5 SO, 2.94 GAA); Burke (10-9-3, 3.00). Canadiens - Huet (11-6-4, 5, 2.25); Aebischer (25-14-2, 3, 2.98).

SEASON SERIES: Canadiens, 3-0.

LAST MEETING: March 4; Canadiens, 6-2. At Tampa, Fla., Montreal scored four unanswered third-period goals, three of which came in a 6-minute span, and Huet made 27 saves to help the Canadiens improve to 6-0-2 in their last eight games.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Lightning - 17-15-2 on the road; Canadiens - 17-7-4 at home.

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