It has been 37 years since the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens failed to make the playoffs in the same season. The final six weeks of this season will determine if history repeats itself.
The Maple Leafs look to continue their recent road success Monday night when they face Canadiens at the Bell Centre in a matchup of Original Six rivals.
The Canadiens (32-26-6) have been by far the most successful NHL franchise with 24 Stanley Cups, according to their official Web site. The Maple Leafs (30-23-9) are next on that list with 13 Cups since 1917, but none since 1967.
While each team has had good and bad seasons lately, it is very rare for both to struggle at the same time. When Montreal missed the playoffs in three straight seasons from 1998-2001, Toronto twice moved on to the East semifinals and once to the finals.
The Leafs, meanwhile, failed to qualify for the playoffs three times in a four-year span from 1988-1992, while the Canadiens won two division titles and advanced past the first round each time.
The last time both teams did not reach the playoffs was in 1969-70, and that could be the case again this season as 10 teams vie for the final six spots in the Eastern Conference.
Toronto is 10th in the conference, one point behind Montreal and the New York Islanders, which are tied for eighth.
Playing on the road at this point of the season could be a problem for some teams, but not Toronto, which is 10-2-1 in its last 13 away from home. Only San Jose (20) and Buffalo (19) have more road wins than the Leafs' 18.
That road success continued Saturday as Alex Steen and Jeff O'Neill each had a goal and an assist in a 5-2 victory over league-worst Philadelphia.
"When we stay away from mistakes, we are a pretty tough team," Steen said. "The last week or so, there have been some mistakes. We have to stay away from them and be more consistent."
Captain Mats Sundin scored his 387th goal with the Maple Leafs, leaving him two shy of the franchise mark held by Hall of Famer Darryl Sittler.
Toronto has at least a point in all five meetings this season against Montreal, going 3-0-2. Defenseman Tomas Kaberle has four goals and five assists in those five games.
"It will be a fun game," Steen said. "It's exciting. It's like we have been playing playoff games for 10, 15 games now. We can't underestimate them. They have not been playing as well, but we know what they are capable of."
Montreal had a three-game win streak snapped Saturday with a 3-2 road loss to the Islanders. Rookie goaltender Jaroslav Halak suffered his first NHL loss in his fourth straight start despite making 28 saves.
Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said David Aebischer will start this game.
"Halak showed a lot of poise and handling the puck like he does behind the net helped our team, but David has the experience and we need him to be strong," Carbonneau said.
Montreal captain Saku Koivu had two assists, giving him one goal and eight assists during a four-game point streak.
The Canadiens may have right wing Alexei Kovalev back in the lineup after missing seven games with an elbow injury. Kovalev, fourth on the team with 38 points, said after practice Sunday that he's 70 percent certain to return.
Later on Sunday, Montreal acquired Josh Gorges and a first-round pick from San Jose for veteran Craig Rivet in a swap of defensemen. Gorges had a goal and three assists in 47 games with the Sharks this season.