CANADIENS (33-23-7) at THRASHERS (26-26-11)
TV: RDS (HD), SPSO (HD)
Montreal 3-5-2; Atlanta 2-6-2
Third of four meetings this season. The Thrashers already own a pair of wins over the Canadiens, 3-0 in Atlanta on Nov. 26 with Ondrej Pavelec stopping all 25 shots he faced, and 4-3 in Montreal on Jan. 2 as Dustin Byfuglien scored a power-play goal with 1:17 left in overtime.
February was a pretty atrocious month for Atlanta, as a 2-7-2 record dropped the Thrashers from an Eastern Conference playoff spot into the pack of teams scratching and clawing in a quest to reach that No. 8 seed. On the bright side, what looked like a sixth straight loss on Sunday instead turned into a thrilling overtime victory as the Thrashers rallied from a two-goal, third-period deficit to edge the Maple Leafs, one of the teams with which they're in competition.
While Montreal has a bit of a cushion, leading ninth-place Buffalo by eight points and holding a 10-point advantage over both Toronto and Atlanta, continuing to win games with regularity is still important. The Canadiens are still competing for the Northeast Division crown, sitting six points behind the Bruins. They faced the eighth-place Hurricanes on Saturday and pulled out a 4-3 victory thanks to an Andrei Kostitsyn
power-play goal with 3:53 remaining.
"We were pretty keen on that power play," forward Mike Cammalleri
told the Montreal Gazette. "When you go so long without one, everyone's pretty excited to get out there."
The recent struggles in Atlanta might have something to do with the team's flurry of activity around the trade deadline, as Radek Dvorak was acquired from Florida on Monday and Rob Schremp was claimed off waivers from the New York Islanders. They will join recent newcomers Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart. On the ice, the Thrashers have three dates remaining on a five-game homestand. They've earned three of a possible four points after defenseman Ron Hainsey scored 2:31 into overtime for a 3-2 win over the Maple Leafs. Andrew Ladd and Tim Stapleton scored in the third to force the extra period.
"We just had to win," Hainsey said. "Lately we've been losing games to teams we're in the race with and they still got one (point), but we picked up two on the teams that were ahead of us. That's what's important. That puts us four (points) away and we're in business here."
Kostitsyn has 2 goals and 2 assists during a three-game points streak for the Canadiens. Cammalleri has consecutive games with a goal and an assist. … Ladd has 6 goals in as many games for the Thrashers. Chris Mason has stopped 47 of 49 shots since replacing an injured Pavelec after the first period against the Panthers on Friday.
Montreal goalie Carey Price
has been battling the flu, though he still dressed for Saturday's game. Forward Mathieu Darche
(groin) and defensemen Jaroslav Spacek
(lower body), Andrei Markov
(knee) and Josh Gorges
(knee) are on injured reserve, with the latter two lost for the season. … Pavelec didn't dress Sunday with an undisclosed injury. Forward Patrice Cormier was also out of the lineup with an upper-body injury. Forwards Jim Slater (concussion) and Alexander Burmistrov (foot) and defenseman Freddy Meyer (head) are on injured reserve.
By scoring Saturday, Tomas Plekanec
became the first Canadien to reach 20 goals in five consecutive seasons since Stephane Richer (1985-86 to 1990-91). … The Thrashers' penalty kill has been successful on 12 straight shorthanded situations over the past three games.
Due to Price's illness, backup Alex Auld started Saturday for the second straight game. He had to be pulled in the first period Thursday against Toronto, but came back with a 28-save effort to beat Carolina.
"I kind of got the word late last night that there was a chance and then this morning I was told to pretty much plan on it being my game, and that's the way I took it," Auld said afterward. "Obviously, it's unfortunate this happened but at the same time for me it was really nice to get right back in. To get that next game and get a win and get it at home, obviously it feels pretty good."