The Montreal Canadiens are in a tight race for first place in the Northeast Division. Matchups with the New York Islanders have only helped their cause.
The Canadiens look to retake the division lead and sweep their season series with the struggling Islanders for the first time in 11 years when the teams meet Saturday night.
Montreal (39-24-9) lost 3-0 to Ottawa on Thursday night, falling behind the Senators in the Northeast. The Canadiens and the Senators both have 87 points, but Ottawa has the lead because it has one more win than Montreal.
Both teams have 10 games remaining. The Senators are idle until a road game against Southeast Division-leading Carolina on Sunday.
Montreal, which would move from fifth to second in the Eastern Conference if it earns a point Saturday, is poised to return to the postseason after a one-year absence. The Canadiens' outstanding play against the Islanders (32-33-7) has helped them become one of the conference's top teams.
Montreal is 3-0-0 against New York this season, and has a chance to sweep the series for the first time since going 4-0-0 in 1996-97. The Canadiens also are 10-2-0 at home versus the Islanders since the start of 2001.
But Montreal needs to find a way to rebound after being shut out at home for the fourth time this season. The Canadiens, who scored 31 goals in their previous eight games, are second in the league with 227 on the season.
Rookie Carey Price, meanwhile, struggled in net against Ottawa after shutting out New Jersey two days earlier. The 20-year-old Price, now Montreal's No. 1 goalie, made 21 saves.
The Canadiens, however, did a better job of limiting the opposition's chances against Price after allowing 37 shots or more in each of their previous five games. Montreal will now face a New York team that's been struggling on offense.
The Islanders have scored two goals or less in eight of their last 11 contests, going 3-8-0 in that span to fall further in the East standings. They are eight points behind eighth-place Philadelphia with just 10 games to play.
"To be how close we were a few weeks ago and to be where we are now is frustrating," New York winger Blake Comeau said. "Until we're mathematically out, the guys in this room are going to keep pushing hard. Nobody is ready to lay down and die yet. We've got a great attitude in this room."
The Islanders may be without winger Ruslan Fedotenko for the second straight game. His status for this contest is uncertain after he injured his knee in an 8-4 loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday night.
Fedotenko, who has 16 goals and 33 points in 67 games, missed New York's 4-2 loss to Florida on Wednesday night. It was the Islanders' fourth straight defeat, and another disappointing game on offense.
New York's defense, though, hasn't been any better, allowing four goals or more in eight of the last 10 contests. Rick DiPietro is 1-6-0 with a 4.31 goals-against average in his last seven games.
This is the finale of a four-game road trip for the Islanders.
P.S. I will likely not be able to catch the game tmr, as I will be heading to St.Adele to DJ another house party (a chalet party to be exact). Should my assistants Pat or Karl be unable to type up a postgame report, I'll have the Associated Press' report up on Sunday afternoon, as I'll be away from a computer until then. Sorry, but ENJOY THE GAME!