NHL Preview from The Sports Network|
Saturday, March 22nd
(All times Eastern)
Montreal Canadiens (38-26-7) at Toronto Maple Leafs (36-27-8), 7 p.m.
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Toronto Maple Leafs will try to halt a three-game
slide on Saturday when they host the rival Montreal Canadiens in an important
Eastern Conference battle at Air Canada Centre.
The recent 0-3-0 stretch has hurt Toronto's playoff chances, but the club
hopes to get back on track in the finale of the regular-season series with the
Habs. The showdown is loaded with postseason implications for both teams, but
as of Saturday, the Maple Leafs need the win slightly more than the Canadiens.
With 80 points, Toronto is currently occupying the first of the East's two
wild card spots, but is only three points behind the Habs for third place in
the Atlantic Division. The top three clubs in each division earn automatic
bids to the playoffs while the remaining two spots in each conference are up
for grabs via wild cards.
Tampa Bay is currently two points ahead of Montreal for second place in the
Atlantic. Boston, which became the first team to clinch a playoff berth with a
win on Friday, is currently running away with the division crown as it holds a
16-point lead over the Lightning atop the Atlantic.
The Maple Leafs also have to keep an eye on Detroit, which is currently
outside of the playoff picture but only three points behind Toronto. The Red
Wings, who are tied with Washington in the East standings, also hold two games
in hand over Toronto. Detroit visits Minnesota on Saturday.
The Canadiens and Leafs each have two wins in the 2013-14 season series, but
Toronto has gained one more point (5) in the matchup thanks to an overtime
loss when the clubs met last on March 1 in Montreal. Max Pacioretty notched
the game-winner for the Habs in that meeting, scoring on the power play with
1:32 left in OT.
Toronto has won five of the last nine meetings overall and has taken two of
the past three at Air Canada Centre. Montreal has four wins over the past six
encounters at ACC.
The Maple Leafs were the victims of a Steven Stamkos hat trick in their most
recent loss, a 5-3 home setback in Wednesday's game against the Lightning. It
was the second loss in three home games for Toronto, which had won seven
straight at ACC heading into the month of March.
Stamkos netted a natural hat trick, while both Ryan Malone and Valtteri
Filppula added two assists to down Toronto, which fell to 22-12-1 as the host
"You can definitely tell they had more jump that we did," offered Toronto head
coach Randy Carlyle.
Jake Gardiner, Phil Kessel and Nikolai Kulemin lit the lamp for the Maple
Leafs. Tyler Bozak also picked up two assists, but James Reimer allowed all
five goals on 30 shots in defeat.
It's unclear if Reimer will get a fourth straight start on Saturday, or if No.
1 netminder Jonathan Bernier can return from a strained groin. Bernier was
injured on March 13 in Los Angeles, but the Quebec native practiced in full
gear on Friday and could get the start this evening.
However, the 25-year-old Bernier has not fared well in five career games
against Montreal, going 1-3-1 with a 3.40 goals against average and .895 save
percentage. Reimer is 5-3-0 with a 2.73 GAA and .919 save percentage in nine
career games versus the Habs. In light of those numbers, Carlyle could opt to
rest Bernier for another day on Saturday and save him for Sunday's road battle
with New Jersey.
Leafs centerman Dave Bolland could also return to action Saturday for the
first time since severing a tendon in his ankle on Nov. 2. Bolland, who was
acquired in a trade with Chicago over the summer, had six goals and four
assists in 15 games before the injury. On Friday, Carlyle said Bolland is day-
to-day and a game-time decision for this evening's battle.
While Toronto could be getting some pieces back on Saturday, the Canadiens
learned on Friday that forward Brandon Prust will miss the rest of the regular
season due to an upper-body injury. Prust has six goals and seven assists in
52 games this season and also played a key role on Montreal's checking line.
The Canadiens played their first game without Prust in Thursday's 3-2 home
loss against Columbus. Ryan Johansen scored the deciding goal with 3:01
remaining as the Blue Jackets snapped Montreal's three-game winning streak
with a regulation win.
"Tonight was a bad night for our team," Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien
said. "We played a poor game."
Montreal lost despite getting a 37-save performance from Carey Price, with
Brendan Gallagher and Thomas Vanek each potting goals in defeat.
Vanek has four goals over his last two games after failing to hit the net in
his first five outings with Montreal. The 30-year-old sniper was acquired at
the trade deadline from the New York Islanders and has recorded 22 goals and
26 assists over 49 career games against the Leafs.
Price will get the start in net for Montreal on Saturday. He is 12-13-1 with a
2.72 GAA and .914 save percentage in 26 career games versus Toronto.
Beginning with Saturday's test, the Canadiens are playing two straight and
five of their next six games away from Montreal. The Habs are 18-14-2 as the
guest this season.
03/22 10:43:24 ET