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Maple Leafs look to pull into tie with Canadiens

by Arpon Basu

MAPLE LEAFS (32-22-7) at CANADIENS (33-21-7)


Last 10: Toronto 6-2-2; Montreal 6-2-2

Season series: This is the fourth of five games between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs this season, the final one in Montreal. The Maple Leafs won two of the first three games.

Big story: The Canadiens will play backup goaltender Peter Budaj for a third straight game while starter Carey Price recovers from a lower-body injury he aggravated while playing for Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

The Canadiens have picked up three of a possible four points against two difficult opponents, the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins, with Budaj in goal.

The Maple Leafs are two points behind the Canadiens in the Atlantic Division standings with both teams having 21 games to play, so this game increases in importance more than the usual furor that surrounds a Toronto-Montreal matchup on a Saturday night.

"You're definitely coming to crunch time now," Budaj said Friday. "You have around 20 games left and every point is huge. It's starting to be playoff hockey and the points are going to be hard to come by, especially coming down the stretch. You just have to be ready. We know Toronto's going to be ready, so we have to worry about ourselves and make sure we're ready."

Team Scope:

Maple Leafs: The Maple Leafs did not come out of the Olympic break the way they wanted, losing 5-4 in overtime on the road against the New York Islanders on Thursday.

The game featured a number of turnovers and mistakes typical of a team that just took two weeks off, but coach Randy Carlyle hopes his team is able to put that performance behind it quickly.

"We can't change what happened last night," Carlyle said Friday after his team practiced at the Canadiens' suburban training facility. "There's no way that we can bring that back. I know many people have tried, but that doesn't work that way, specifically in pro sports you have to have a short-term memory. What we've tried to do is recognize the things that we did to not give ourselves a chance more so than what we did do to give ourselves a chance."

Forwards Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk, who played for the United States at the Olympics and combined for five points against the Islanders, did not practice but are expected to play against Montreal.

Canadiens: The Canadiens came from behind on four separate occasions to defeat the Penguins in a shootout, something few teams have done in Pittsburgh this season. But afterward the focus, as it often has been this season, was on coach Michel Therrien choosing not to play defenseman P.K. Subban in overtime.

Subban committed a turnover that led to Brandon Sutter's shorthanded goal that gave Pittsburgh a very short-lived 4-3 lead with less than 13 minutes left in regulation. Subban was used on the power play after that but sat for all five minutes of overtime.

Therrien explained that he felt Subban's concentration was an issue and didn't want to risk him making another mistake in overtime.

"We have a lot of confidence in P.K. Subban. He's a young defenseman," Therrien said. "The coaching staff pays a lot of attention to him to work with him so he can improve as much as possible -- him and the others. In his case, he's a guy that can make plays, but he needs to learn to play the percentages. When he does that he's efficient and he helps the team. So he needs to concentrate. It's kind of normal that he just played two games where he could have been better. When you come back from the Olympics your concentration level isn't always on point. But I'm very confident he'll be back to the defenseman we know."

Who’s hot: Van Riemsdyk has four goals and seven assists in his past eight games. Kessel has 12 goals and 17 assists in his past 16 games for the Maple Leafs. … Canadiens center David Desharnais has two goals and five assists in his past five games, and Daniel Briere has two goals and two assists in the two games since the end of the Olympic break.

Injury report: Toronto center David Bolland (ankle) is day-to-day. … Price (lower body), defenseman Davis Drewiske (shoulder), and forwards Brandon Prust (upper body) and Michael Bournival (concussion) are out for Montreal. Forward Ryan White (illness) missed the game Thursday and did not practice Friday.

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