After an explosive effort from Lars Eller in their last trip to the ice, the Montreal Canadiens will try to win consecutive games for the first time under head coach Randy Cunneyworth as they host the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight at the Bell Centre.
Meanwhile, the Lightning will try to salvage the finale of a three-game road trip after getting outscored by an 11-4 margin over the first two tilts.
The Canadiens, who are last in the Northeast Division and tied with Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference standings, had lost two straight and seven of eight heading into Wednesday's 7-3 blowout win over visiting Winnipeg. That victory improved Montreal's record to 2-6 since Cunneyworth replaced the fired Jacques Martin last month.
Eller dominated the lopsided win over the Jets, as he doubled his goal total for the season in one night, registering his first career four-goal game in the resounding victory.
Eller, who also added an assist, had four goals in his first 36 games this season. He capped off his performance Wednesday with a dazzling, spin-o-rama penalty-shot goal. Eller was the first Montreal player to record four goals at home since Brian Bellows pulled off the feat on Feb. 27, 1993 at the Forum.
"It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, getting four goals. It was incredible," Eller said. "I thank my teammates, like Travis (Moen) and Andrei (Kostitsyn), who did an amazing job, and I was in the right place at the right time."
Montreal, which is playing the middle test of a three-game homestand tonight, is just 6-7-6 as the host team this season. The Habs will complete the stand Tuesday against St. Louis.
The Canadiens expect to get their captain back tonight, as Brian Gionta appears ready to return from an 11-game absence due to a lower body injury. Gionta has eight goals and seven assists in 29 games this year.
"I'm really anxious to get back," Gionta told his club's official web site after practicing on Friday. "I still have to talk to the trainers but I definitely felt good out there today. Obviously the injury was a little worse than we had thought at first -- it's just one of those things you have to take care of, but there's still half the season left and it'll be a good time to come back."
The Lightning were dealt a 7-3 loss Tuesday in Toronto and did not bounce back in Thursday's game at Ottawa, as Tampa lost that tilt by a 4-1 score. Guy Boucher's club has lost four straight on the road and is just 6-14-3 as the guest this year compared to an 11-5-0 mark in Tampa.
Dwayne Roloson made 20 saves in Thursday's loss, while Steven Stamkos scored his league-leading 28th goal of the season. Stamkos has scored goals in five straight games and has eight markers over that stretch. He has 12 tallies in his last 10 contests.
"I don't think tonight we deserved to lose," said Boucher. "We played better than that but didn't take advantage of our chances."
The first meeting between Montreal and Tampa this season came last Saturday in Florida and the Bolts recorded a 4-3 regulation win. The Lightning rallied from a 3-1 deficit in that one and Vincent Lecavalier netted the game-winning goal in the third period.
Tampa has taken three of five in this series overall, while the Habs have claimed two of the last three in Montreal.