Habs close with Leafs, look to put lock on sixth
CANADIENS (43-30-8) at MAPLE LEAFS (37-33-11)
TV -- CBC (HD), RDS (HD)
Last 10 --
Montreal 4-5-1; Toronto 6-3-1
Season series --
These age-old "Original Six" rivals square off for the sixth and final time this season on Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto has taken three of the previous five head-to-head meetings this season, including a 5-4 triumph in the most recent battle on Feb. 24 at the Bell Centre. Phil Kessel registered a four-point night, including two power-play tallies, to help the Leafs upend their Northeast Division opponent.
Big story --
Montreal will be heading to the postseason after clinching a spot on Tuesday with an overtime win over Chicago, and needs a win or a Buffalo loss to clinch the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. Toronto closed out the regular season admirably in pursuit of its first playoff berth since 2003-04, but was eliminated on Tuesday after a Buffalo victory.
Montreal clinched a playoff berth with an exhilarating 2-1 overtime win over the defending champion Blackhawks. But the final week of the season remained meaningful, as the Habs look to hold off the surging Sabres for the East's sixth seed.
Montreal was in great position heading into Thursday night's game at Ottawa, especially after Mike Cammalleri
scored late in the third period to force overtime. But the Habs surrendered the game-winner to Filip Kuba, as the Senators prevailed, 3-2.
"We need to be a little sharper and a little more assertive in our game," Cammalleri said. "To tie it up at the end was nice, but it was a bit of a mental letdown after last game."
While this season has been a success for the Canadiens, Jacques Martin, who seeks his 600th career victory on Saturday in Toronto, knows the importance of finishing the regular season strong.
"I think that we've been playing very well lately and we had a real playoff game against the Blackhawks on Tuesday and last Saturday in New Jersey," Martin said. "Tonight we weren't as good and we didn't win, so you hope to learn from those experiences."
Maple Leafs --
Toronto will miss the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season, but despite a slow start to the season, the Maple Leafs did not go down without a fight.
Their late-season surge of six wins in seven games kept them relevant heading into the final week of the season, which began with a home matchup on Tuesday with Washington, the East's top-seed. Nikolai Kulemin and Joffrey Lupul notched goals to invigorate the Air Canada Centre crowd, and James Reimer was masterful in the crease with 39 saves to help Toronto keep its distant playoff hopes alive for the majority of the game. But the Leafs were eliminated before their game went final, and then suffered a 3-2 loss in shootout.
On Wednesday in New Jersey, the Maple Leafs struggled out of the gates, falling behind 3-0 after 40 minutes of play. But the character that enabled Toronto to muster its late season playoff push helped the Leafs draw within a goal of the Devils after Tyler Bozak's shorthanded goal. Toronto eventually fell, 4-2, but the competitive fight down the stretch of the season has enabled the Leafs to develop positive energy heading into the offseason.
"It shows we still have fight in us," Reimer said. "Although we are kicked out [of the playoffs], we still want to win."
Who's Hot --
Kessel is in the midst of a nine-game points streak for Toronto, as the winger has compiled 3 goals and 7 assists in that span. … Habs defenseman P.K. Subban
has tallied 3 goals in his last four games to continue his strong rookie campaign.
Injury Report -- Max Pacioretty
(concussion/fractured vertebra) and Alexandre Picard
(foot) will miss Saturday's game and remain out indefinitely for the Habs. Jeff Halpern
(lower body) missed Thursday's game against Ottawa and remains questionable for the regular-season finale. … Colton Orr (concussion) and Colby Armstrong (broken foot) will miss Saturday's game for Toronto. Tim Brent (upper body) is doubtful.
Stat pack --
Subban scored his second overtime goal of the season against the Blackhawks to punch Montreal's ticket to the postseason. Subban became only the third rookie defenseman to score two overtime goals in one season since the NHL introduced the five-minute OT format in 1983. The other two were Chicago's Brent Seabrook (2005-06) and Anaheim's Cam Fowler this season. Subban became only the second defenseman in franchise history to score two OT goals in one season under the current rules; the first was Sheldon Souray in 2006-07.
Puck drop --
After Buffalo's overtime win over Philadelphia on Friday night, the Habs and Sabres are tied for sixth place in the East. Montreal holds the potential tiebreaker, having compiled more non-shootout victories this season. The Canadiens control their own destiny in pursuit of the sixth seed.
Put on your game face
Mathieu Darche is the 2010-11 Canadiens candidate for the Bill Masterton Trophy
Canadiens sign free agent Alain Berger to 3-year contract
The Notebook - April 8, 2011