The Montreal Canadiens have been virtually unbeatable at home lately. That would appear likely to continue against a Nashville Predators team that struggles mightily away from its home rink.
The Canadiens look for their fourth straight home victory and fifth in their last six games overall on Thursday when they face the Predators, who snapped a seven-game road losing streak in their previous contest.
Montreal (25-11-6) has been surging for nearly a month, winning nine of its last 12 games. The Canadiens have earned at least a point in all six home games during that stretch, going 5-0-1 at the Bell Centre.
They had a chance for a five-game overall winning streak Tuesday at Northeast Division-leading Boston, but fell 3-1 to the Bruins. Andrei Kostitsyn's 14th goal of the season gave Montreal a second-period lead, but Boston rallied to score three times on Jaroslav Halak, who suffered his second loss since becoming the fill-in starter for Carey Price on Jan. 2.
With Price still recovering from an ankle injury that could keep him from starting the All-Star Game in Montreal on Jan. 25, Halak is expected to make his seventh straight start Thursday. He has faced the Predators once in his career - a 6-5 shootout victory in Nashville on Feb. 22, 2007.
Though the Canadiens' win streak came to an end in Boston, a couple of individual streaks continued. Kostitsyn's goal extended his point streak to five, and Andrei Markov - among the league's leading defensemen with 26 assists and 32 points - had his fourth straight game with an assist.
"Andrei Markov is such a smart defenseman," fellow defenseman Mathieu Carle said on the Canadiens' official Web site. "He's always in the right place at the right time. He's so slick on the power play and just does everything well."
Nashville (20-20-3) ended its road skid Tuesday in Toronto, as rookie goaltender Pekka Rinne needed only 17 saves to earn his fourth shutout.
Should he start Thursday, Rinne will test his 73:49 active scoreless streak against a team he's never faced. The Nashville netminder has allowed six goals in his last five appearances, going 3-2-0 with a 1.31 goals-against average in that span.
Martin Erat assisted on third-period goals from Radek Bonk and David Legwand to extend his point streak to four games. Legwand's goal also marked his fourth straight game with a point.
With an assist on Bonk's goal, Steve Sullivan earned his first point in nearly two years. Sullivan, who missed 153 contests with back problems that required two disc operations before returning Saturday, hadn't recorded a point since Feb. 22, 2007, when he had a goal and an assist against Montreal.
"He's just so smart," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "Two years of watching, he's even gotten smarter, just seeing the game from up top. He's just one of those remarkable, remarkable players and as we go along here he's getting better and better."
The Predators might not have either of their top two goal scorers for this contest. Jason Arnott, who has a team-leading 15, has missed consecutive games with a lower body injury, and Shea Weber - second on the club with 13 goals and 31 points - is questionable with a bruised foot.
This is Nashville's first trip to the Bell Centre since Dec. 1, 2007, when it took a 5-4 shootout victory to snap a four-game losing streak in Montreal.