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Rangers seek to avoid sweep by Canadiens

by Brian Hunter

CANADIENS (39-25-7) at RANGERS (37-30-4)


Last 10:
Montreal 7-3-0; New York 6-4-0

Season series: Fourth and final meeting of the season. The Canadiens will be going for the sweep, having allowed just three goals in as many games against the Rangers. That includes a 2-0 win in the most recent matchup on Feb. 5, with Scott Gomez scoring the decisive goal and Carey Price stopping all 35 shots he faced.

Big story:
A shootout win over Tampa Bay on Thursday night moved Montreal within three points of Boston for the Northeast Division lead and a top-three seed in the Eastern Conference. New York, meanwhile, had a pair of teams chasing it in the standings lose, in Toronto and New Jersey, keeping the race for the last couple playoff berths from becoming even more jumbled.

Team Scope:

It came right down to the wire for Montreal to make the playoffs last season at the eighth seed -- this time around, the Canadiens seem to be leaving nothing to chance and it's just a matter of how high they can finish and whether home ice is in the cards for the first round. Michael Cammalleri scored in the fourth round of the penalty-shot tiebreaker against the Lightning and Price turned in another strong effort with 35 saves as the Habs overcame playing without a host of regulars in the 3-2 victory.

"From the line of questioning I can tell a lot of people thought we might not win tonight, but in this room it didn't feel that way," Cammalleri said afterward. "The young guys that played, we felt like they could play. It's kind of news to us, because we went into that game expecting to win the game."

Rangers: Building off a critical shootout win in San Jose, the Blueshirts returned home on Tuesday and overcame a brief lull at the start of the second period to record a 6-3 victory over their bitter rivals, the New York Islanders. After giving up two goals in the first four minutes, allowing the Isles to pull into a 2-2 tie, the Rangers blitzed them over the final 10 of the period. Ryan Callahan scored the go-ahead goal, then Marian Gaborik and Bryan McCabe struck on the power play.

"It's always nice to score, definitely," said Gaborik, who added his 20th goal of the season at even strength in the third period. "But more importantly it was a big win. This is a big stretch for us, a big challenge (to make the playoffs)."

Who's hot: Andrei Kostitsyn has goals in consecutive games for the Canadiens. … Erik Christensen has 5 goals and 4 assists over his last seven games for the Rangers. Vinny Prospal has 1 goal and 7 assists during a seven-game points streak. Marian Gaborik has 3 goals and 1 assist during a three-game points streak.

Injury report:
Montreal got excellent news Thursday when it was revealed forward Max Pacioretty (concussion/fractured vertebra) can start skating again in a little over a week and could be back for the playoffs. The team was missing a handful of regulars against Tampa Bay as defensemen Hal Gill (flu-like symptoms) and Brent Sopel (hand) and forwards Jeff Halpern (lower body) and Tomas Plekanec (lower body) were all out. Pacioretty, forward Mathieu Darche (groin) and defenseman Jaroslav Spacek (knee) are all on injured reserve.

New York goalie Martin Biron is out indefinitely with a broken collarbone. Forwards Derek Boogaard (shoulder/concussion), Alex Frolov (knee) and Chris Drury (knee) are on injured reserve.

Stat pack: James Wisniewski has already played six games against the Rangers this season for both the Islanders and Canadiens, and has 6 assists. … Since the start of the 2005-06 season, New York is 43-25-12 against Original Six opponents, including 10-10-3 against Montreal.

Puck drop: Both the Canadiens and Rangers will have only 10 games remaining after Friday, making the points available in this game all the more important.

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