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While the New York Rangers look to move closer to securing the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, the Montreal Canadiens hope to overcome another organizational shake-up in the final days of a dismal season.
One day after the firing of general manager Pierre Gauthier, the Canadiens try to end the Rangers' three-game winning streak Friday night at Madison Square Garden.
Losers in five of six and owners of an East-worst 72 points, Montreal (29-34-14) will miss the playoffs for the first time in five seasons. The Canadiens' 199 goals are among the fewest in the conference and their 15.0 percent conversion rate on the power play ranks near the bottom of the NHL..
That all factored into owner Geoff Molson's decision to fire Gauthier on Thursday with five games remaining.
Gauthier, who had been with the club since 2003, was hired to succeed Bob Gainey as general manager in February 2010. However, his run in that position and as executive vice president was short. Gauthier appeared to be on shaky ground after he fired assistant Perry Pearn and then coach Jacques Martin in December. He faced more scrutiny after he replaced Martin with Randy Cunneyworth, a former NHL player who does not speak French in a bilingual market.
"Everyone in this organization, including our players, expected better," said Molson, whose storied franchise reached the conference finals in 2010. "We need to remember that our fans want us to win, period. Our organizational culture is to support and adopt this passion for victory. Nothing else matters."
In addition to Gauthier's departure, Gainey will leave his role as team advisor. Molson said former Canadien great Serge Savard will advise him in the team's search for a new general manager. Assistant coach Larry Carriere will step out from behind the bench to serve as assistant GM.
"Our priority is to find the best possible person to take on this challenge of helping build a winning team; someone who can lead this organization from a hockey perspective," Molson told the Canadiens' official website.
With this potential off-ice distraction, the Canadiens look to avoid a third straight loss while trying for a third consecutive victory over the East-leading Rangers (49-21-7). New York beat Montreal 5-3 at home on Nov. 5, but the Rangers have been outscored 8-1 while losing the last two against their Original Six rival on the road.
Though the Canadiens have had little trouble scoring against the Rangers this season, they've been held to two or fewer goals in five of the last six overall. Montreal has been outscored 12-4 during a four-game road skid.
Erik Cole, who scored his team-leading and career-high 31st goal in Tuesday's 3-2 shootout loss to Florida, has been held scoreless in the last three away from home. He's been limited to two goals with an assist in his last 10 games at New York.
The Canadiens have dropped two straight at Madison Square Garden, where the Rangers return after sweeping a three-game road stretch against Toronto, Minnesota and Winnipeg. Ryan Callahan and Michael Del Zotto each had a goal and an assist to help New York overcome a 2-0 deficit Wednesday to win for the fifth time in six games, 4-2 over the Jets.
"It's something for us to build on," said Callahan, who has a career-high 28 goals. "We showed character. We have been doing it all year long."
Callahan has five goals and four assists in his last six home games against the Canadiens.
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