CANADIENS (20-15-2) at LIGHTNING (21-11-5)
TV: RDS (HD), TSN-HABS (HD), SUN (HD)
Montreal 3-7-0; Tampa Bay 6-2-2
Second of four meetings this season. Tampa Bay's Guy Boucher, who has ties to the Montreal organization, won his first game there as an NHL coach, 4-3 on Oct. 13, as Ryan Malone
scored in the final minute of overtime. He also assisted on goals by Brett Clark
and Steven Stamkos
Boucher, who coached the Canadiens' AHL affiliate in Hamilton last season, has the Lightning fighting for first place in the Southeast Division and one of the top seeds in the Eastern Conference after they finished each of the past three seasons out of the playoff picture. They enter Thursday two points behind the Capitals, the same margin by which the Canadiens trail the Bruins after leading the Northeast for most of the first three months.
Returning to the scene of the crime for the first time Tuesday, the one thing Montreal lacked was the man most responsible for stealing a first-round playoff series away from Washington last spring. Jaroslav Halak, who punctuated the Canadiens' comeback from a 3-1 deficit with a Game 7 win at Verizon Center, is now in St. Louis, and while Carey Price
did his job well enough, stopping 27 of 29 shots, he received no offensive support in a 3-0 loss to the Capitals.
"We have to get our game back together," forward Tomas Plekanec
told the Montreal Gazette. "We're not playing well, but that can change. We have two back-to-back games. We have to get some points."
As frustrating as it was to lose to Boston on Tuesday, the manner in which Tampa Bay was beaten rankled Boucher more. With the game approaching the end of regulation and the Lightning closing in on at least a point, Stamkos was called for boarding with 1:50 remaining. On the subsequent power play, Mark Recchi scored with 19.7 seconds left. Stamkos had a goal and an assist in the 4-3 defeat. Vincent Lecavalier
and Martin St. Louis
had the other tallies for the Bolts.
"Shoulder to shoulder hit," Boucher said in describing the play that resulted in the Stamkos penalty against Gregory Campbell. "He's fighting for the puck. They're both going after it. This one is very difficult for everyone to swallow."
Lecavalier has 4 goals in his last three games for the Lightning. Stamkos has goals in three straight games and a total of 5 points in that span. St. Louis has 2 goals and 3 assists during his own three-game points streak. Stamkos (52) and St. Louis (48) also became the first teammates in the NHL this season to combine for 100 points.
Montreal defenseman Josh Gorges
(knee) is day-to-day, while fellow blueliner Andrei Markov
(knee) is out for the season. … Tampa Bay goalie Mike Smith (knee) and forward Steve Downie
(ankle) are on injured reserve.
The Canadiens won only 16 of 52 faceoffs against the Capitals, a 31-percent clip. … Stamkos, who led the League in power-play goals with 24 last season, has 13 to this point and leads again, with three more than Sidney Crosby.
Montreal will have a new face in the dressing room as it starts a two-game trip through Florida -- the Canadiens face the Panthers on New Year's Eve. Defenseman James Wisniewski was acquired from the New York Islanders on Tuesday in exchange for a pair of draft picks.
Wisniewski, 26, had 3 goals and 21 points in 32 games this season, including a goal against the Canadiens on Sunday in his next-to-last game as an Islander. Overall he's on a six-game points streak, with 1 goal and 5 assists, and will help compensate for Markov's loss.