CANADIENS (36-29-6) at MAPLE LEAFS (25-34-12)
Montreal 7-3-0; Toronto 6-3-1
This is the fifth of six meetings between the two old foes. Montreal has won three out of four matchups, with all three requiring extra time; 4-3 in overtime on Oct. 1, 5-1 in a shootout on Oct. 31 and 3-2 in overtime on Dec. 26. The Leafs shut out the Canadiens 3-0 on Dec. 1. Jaroslav Halak was the star in the most recent game on Dec. 26, making 47 saves for the Habs.
The Canadiens seem to be peaking at just the right time. A point behind the Flyers and the Senators, who are in fifth and sixth respectively, the Habs could leap into fifth in the Eastern Conference and second in the Northeast Division if they pick up a win against the Maple Leafs. Montreal is riding a six-game win streak and in the process has put a good four points in between them and the eighth-place Bruins. A win won't come easy in Toronto, as the home team has won four straight at the Air Canada Centre.
"The way the Leafs are playing right now, they don’t look like a last-place team to me," Montreal defenseman Hal Gill
said. "Their lineup is full of young guys trying to make a strong impression and earn spots for next season. I'm not expecting it to be an easy night in T.O. on Saturday."
The Canadiens outshot the Rangers 35-20 on Tuesday. Glen Metropolit scored early in the first on the power play, and while New York's Sean Avery would tie the game in the second, Sergei Kostitsyn's third-period tally would prove to be the game-winner. Tomas Plekanec
sealed the deal with an empty-netter.
"We're playing well right now. We're putting things together," Gill said. "Tonight's a good example of finding a way to win. We had pressure on them and we couldn't get the goals, but we stuck with it and found a way, and that's what it takes."
While the Maple Leafs sit in last place in their Eastern Conference, they've won the last five of six games. Their latest victory was a 2-1 shootout win over the Devils on Thursday. Phil Kessel
scored in regulation, while Nikolai Kulemin
was credited with the shootout winner. Kessel and John Mitchell also beat Yann Danis in the shootout. Jean-Sebastien Giguere finished the night with 24 saves
"We're playing for each other," Kessel said. "We want to win games. This year isn't over. We're going to play it out to the end, try to win as many games as we can."
Sergei Kostitsyn has goals in each of his last three games, scoring the game-winners in his last two. Metropolit leads the Habs with 10 power-play goals and is having a career-season with 16 goals and 13 assists. Andrei Markov
, with an assist on Tuesday, is riding seven-game point streak with 10 points.
Kessel has five goals and two assists in his last five games and despite notching the game-winner Thursday against the Devils, Kulemin's six-game points streak (4 goals, 4 assists) came to an end, as shootout goals don't count toward a player's stats.
Montreal defenseman Paul Mara will undergo shoulder surgery early next week and will be out indefinitely. Both Mike Cammalleri
(right MCL) and Marc-André Bergeron (knee) have started practicing with their teammates and are looking at making their returns next week. … Toronto defenseman Mike Komisarek
(shoulder surgery) and Mike Van Ryn (left knee surgery) are on injured reserve and out for the rest of the season.
With a win on Saturday, Halak could tie a franchise record for goaltenders with a seventh straight win. Former Hab and current Capitals goalie Jose Theodore set the record in 2002 from March 28 to April 9.
"I think what's important for our team right now is to really focus one game at a time. You know, going down the stretch some of the tougher games to play are when teams are eliminated and they play loose. We'll enjoy tonight's win, have a chance to have a couple good practices, and focus ourselves for Saturday night's game." -- Habs coach Jacques Martin following their 3-1 win over the Rangers.