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Canadiens at Maple Leafs - Game Preview

Can the Canadiens set the tone in a possible playoff preview?

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The Canadiens will be counting on this man to forget his last game in Toronto.
The Canadiens will be counting on this man to forget his last game in Toronto.
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Montreal Canadiens will step onto the Air Canada Centre ice for what may not be the last time this season. The Canadiens are currently sitting in the four-hole, but could inch up to second with at least a point tonight, and the right amount of late-season futility from the Bruins. The Leafs, meanwhile, will not place higher than their present fifth-place standing, but could fall to sixth if a loss tonight were to combine with two Senators victories.

The Canadiens track record against the Leafs is poor this season, with two blowout losses (6-0 in early February, and 5-1 two weeks ago), a season-opening 2-1 loss, and a single 5-2 victory on their 2013 against-Toronto resume. Toronto is the Canadiens most likely playoff opponent, and the home-ice comfort that the two-seed would afford the Habs is still on the table. These incentives should be more than enough for the Canadiens to come out seeking to prove that their results against the Leafs to this point are an aberration.

While the Canadiens have spent the last few weeks learning to cope without a key defender in Alexei Emelin, the Leafs will likely be missing a top-six offensive player for this evening's match-up. Tyler Bozak left the Leafs loss to the Lightning earlier this week, and did not play against the Panthers. He is questionable for this evening, and looks likely to be scratched. Other Leaf scratches, per James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail, include pugilist Frazer McLaren, too-good-to-not-be-playing Jake Gardiner, former Hab Ryan O'Byrne, and Marlies-captain-turned-Leaf Ryan Hamilton.

The injury to Bozak prompted Randy Carlyle to place all his eggs in his first line's basket, as he united Nazem Kadri, Phil Kessel, and Joffrey Lupul to form a potent trio. The second line features Mikhail Grabovski with Clarke MacArthur and JVR, while Jay McClement and Colton Orr will take their usual places on the fourth line. The Leafs have been playing prospect Joe Colborne of late, who will suit-up between Leo Komarov and Nik Kulemin this evening. The Canadiens will have a prospect of their own on the ice, as Jarred Tinordi should be in the line-up again this evening.

Tinordi will be playing in front of Peter Budaj, who the Canadiens have confirmed will start tonight. Budaj is 2-1 in three career starts against the Leafs, posting an excellent .940 save percentage on 84 shots he's faced. Budaj most recently saw the Leafs when he took over for Carey Price at the mid-way point of the first period, unable to stem the tide in the Canadiens most recent loss to Toronto.

The Leafs will counter with incumbent starter James Reimer, who has looked better and better as the season has progressed. Reimer has a .926 save percentage on the 2013 season, which is consistent with his work against the Habs over his career. Reimer has earned a 4-2 career mark against the Habs, including two wins and one shutout this year.

For hockey coverage from the shadow of the CN Tower, check out Pension Plan Puppets.

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