For the first time since December, the Canadiens are over .500 in their last ten games. That feat may feel like a minor miracle to Habs fans, but if Montreal is going to make anything of their season, it's going to take a much larger act of divinity.
With their playoff chances sitting at a rock-solid 9%, and the most challenging portion of their remaining schedule lurking just around the corner, the Canadiens are in a must-win situation tonight.
Of course, given the Maple Leafs' fate this season, a win for Montreal just might be doable this evening. It's an accomplishment they've pulled off three times already this season, and if they can cap their season sweep tonight, they'll remain on the fringe of the hunt for the final wildcard spot.
How to Watch
Start time: 7:00 PM ET
In the Canadiens region (French): TVAS
In the Canadiens region (English): CBC, City
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
|52.6||Score-Adjusted Corsi %||50.6|
|0.97||5v5 Goal Ratio||0.83|
Know Your Enemy
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The Toronto Maple Leafs began the season fully aware of its trajectory. They were a team firmly in transition, embarking on a new organizational path under their new leadership, and stacking the team with assets they knew they could sell later.
Shawn Matthias and Roman Polak, who each participated when these two teams last met, are both gone. Nick Spaling followed Polak. The Leafs are also without a few players who they didn't intend to lose, including James van Riemsdyk, Joffrey Lupul, and Tyler Bozak.
Veteran defender Matt Hunwick is day-to-day. Dion Phaneuf, Hunwick's former partner, has moved from the provincial capital to the national one. And with Jared Cowen now on waivers, it looks like Colin Greening may be the only roster player able to compensate for Toronto's loss of their captain tonight.
All of this adds up to a roster loaded with AHLers, young players, and liquid assets, with no real offensive threat to be seen. If the Habs can hold off the pesky Nazem Kadri, and Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner can't generate more of the magic they've displayed at times this year, Montreal should be in good shape to keep the score low.
Last Time Out
The Habs did just that last time out, holding the Leafs to just two goals. As usual, it was barely enough.
The game's opening goal was started and finished by two players who won't be in the lineup this evening. Nathan Beaulieu corralled the puck at the offensive blue line, and sent a pass to Dale Weise in the slot. Weise, playing on a line with David Desharnais and Alex Galchenyuk, turned toward the net. Rather than let a shot go, he displayed patience and vision, finding his centre (Desharnais, of course) wide open on the backside. #51 pulled the puck to his forehand, roofing a shot past a helpless James Reimer.
With a first period owned by Montreal drawing to a close, Tomas Fleischmann doubled his team's lead. Lars Eller carried the puck into the Toronto zone, and after drawing in two defenders, dropped the puck to his teammate. The Flash took advantage of the open space, banking the puck in through the traffic that had accumulated in front.
Sadly, the Tricolore would squander that long stretch of dominant hockey, along with their two goal lead. Rielly and Kadri turned a relatively innocuous rush into their team's first goal, and later, Lupul pounced on a rebound to equalize.
Pushed to a shootout, the Canadiens relied on their captain to keep them alive. Then, with the game on his stick, Eller made no mistake, pulling the puck and allowing Reimer's momentum to carry his out of his crease and straight to the locker room.
With the Canadiens playoff hopes growing ever slimmer, the Habs can't afford to lose much for the remainder of the season. Playing a toothless Leafs' team built for seasons beyond this one, they certainly can't afford to lose tonight.