Playoff picture more crowded than ever
Alex Kovalev, Mats Sundin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Glen Murray are on a collision course with the playoffs now less than two months away.
MONTREAL - With four teams, including the Canadiens, battling for the same playoff spot, all signs point to things coming down to the wire in the Eastern Conference.
As cloudy as the postseason picture now seems, one thing is clear: the Canadiens, Maple Leafs, Bruins and the Thrashers will have a close eye on the out-of-town scoreboard over the next two months.
The Leafs, who are currently one point behind the Canadiens for the coveted eighth and final playoff spot with 59 points, are certainly hearing the footsteps of the Bruins and Thrashers creeping up behind them. The Canadiens and Leafs will do battle three more times before the regular season comes to a close, including an intriguing pair of games over three days in late March that will see Toronto play back-to-back games at the Bell Centre.
Not that their long time rivalry needs any more spicing up, but the Canadiens and Bruins will meet four more times this season. With 60 points, the Canadiens own a slim two point lead over Boston, with Montreal also holding two games in hand. The Canadiens, who face the Bruins more often than other team over the course of the rest of the season, will have the chance to single-handedly put a damper on Boston's playoff hopes.
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The Canadiens and Leafs both missing playoffs is a rare occurrence that has only happened twice over the past 80 years. The last time Montreal and Toronto both found themselves on the outside looking in come playoff time was back in 1969-70. That year, the Canadiens actually finished tied with the Rangers with 92 points and 38 wins only to see New York head to the postseason by virtue of their superior goal differential.
The Habs and Leafs also saw their seasons end prematurely in 1925-26, in a year that saw Montreal, Toronto and Boston all miss the playoffs - something that hasn't happened since.
While they may hardly have the team history of their rivals, the upstart Thrashers are looking to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. The Canadiens have already wrapped up their season series with the seven-year-old Thrashers with Montreal holding a 2-1-1 edge over Atlanta in 2005-06.
Four teams, one spot. With the Canadiens scheduled to close out the regular season with 14 of their last 20 games at home, it should be quite a ride.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com