How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EDT / 4:00 PM PDT
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the Islanders region: MSG+
Elsewhere: NHL.tv / Rogers NHL Live
Fresh off a milestone victory for Carey Price and the Canadiens over the Detroit Red Wings Tuesday night, the Habs will visit the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum. It’s the second meeting between these teams since Montreal ended New York’s five-game winning streak back in November. The stakes are much higher for Montreal this time around.
The Canadiens enter Thursday night’s game on the outside looking in on this year’s playoff picture. While tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets on points, the Jackets hold the tiebreaker — and the second wild-card position — thanks to having more regulation and overtime wins than Montreal.
Since the Jackets don’t play on Thursday, the Canadiens can move back into the final position with a victory over the Islanders. Columbus does play Friday against Carolina, who currently occupy the other wild-card position.
If the Canes win, they’d distance themselves further from the Habs. If Columbus wins, regardless of how the Canadiens do Thursday, they will enter the weekend in one of the two wild-card positions. At minimum, the Canadiens will hope the game doesn’t go to overtime and become a three-point contest.
Tale of the Tape
|54.3% (3rd)||Corsi-for pct.||47.4% (28th)|
|2.99 (14th)||Goals per game||2.84 (20th)|
|2.97 (14th)||Goals against per game||2.36 (1st)|
|12.3% (31st)||PP%||15.2% (26th)|
|80.4% (16th)||PK%||81.0% (12th)|
While other results going there way would be great, the Canadiens must be focused on winning Thursday to keep pace. The Canadiens’ playoff mode needed to be activated. The next two weeks have the Islanders on the schedule twice, and dates with Chicago, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Carolina, Florida, and Columbus.
Those games precede the final four games of the year against Winnipeg, Tampa Bay, Washington, and Toronto. Montreal got the job done against Detroit on Tuesday, and they’ll need to do it again and again for the next two weeks.
While the Habs have had favourable results against heavyweights Winnipeg and Washington, they cannot afford to leave those games to chance in the fight for their playoff lives. Montreal’s next eight games are much easier to play through, as the Islanders own the best record of all the teams they’ll face in that span.
Things were much simpler back in November, when the Habs knocked off the Islanders in a 4-3 shootout win. Jonathan Drouin, Max Domi, and — yes — Noah Juulsen each had a goal and an assist in the game. Joel Armia scored the shootout winner, and Antti Niemi made 17 saves in the win.
In the present, Drouin has had points in one game over his last 14. Niemi is 0-2-1 in his last four appearances for the Canadiens and has allowed at least three goals in each of those games. The Canadiens are more likely to ride Price the rest of the way than give Niemi a start between now and the end of the season. Charlie Lindgren has joined the team from Laval and perhaps the Canadiens may feel more confident in playing the St. Cloud State alum over the 35-year-old Finn. Juulsen is done for the season with an eye injury. But at least Domi has been remained effective, with eight points in his last seven contests.
Thursday’s game will be the most important one of the season for Montreal. They’ll have to get used to that being the case every night for the next month. Their work over the next two weeks, along with some help from other teams, could make it easier on themselves for the final stretch of the season.