With a playoff spot already clinched, the Montreal Canadiens will try to damage their archrival's postseason chances when they visit the Toronto Maple Leafs for Saturday's Original Six clash at Air Canada Centre.
Montreal, which is still locked in a heated battle with Boston for first place in the Northeast Division, secured its fifth postseason appearance in six years thanks to Thursday's easy win in Buffalo. It's been quite the turnaround in 2013 for the Canadiens, who not only missed the playoffs last season but also finished last in the conference.
Toronto, meanwhile, is trying to end a seven-season playoff drought -- the longest such streak in franchise history -- and enters Saturday's showdown as the fifth seed in the East. With 49 points, the Maple Leafs are one ahead of Ottawa and five points in front of the New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets, who are tied for the eighth and final postseason berth.
The Senators and Jets are idle on Saturday, but the Rangers will visit the New York Islanders.
Toronto began the season series against the Canadiens with two straight wins, outscoring Montreal by a combined 8-1 margin in those games. The Habs, however, responded with a 5-2 win at Toronto on Feb. 27, giving Montreal wins in four of the last five matchups at Air Canada Centre. The Canadiens have won four of seven overall in this series.
The clubs will play once more in the regular season after tonight, as the Canadiens are scheduled to host the Leafs on April 27.
The Maple Leafs will try to get back on track tonight after having a two-game win streak halted with Wednesday's shootout loss in the finale of a home-and- home series against the Rangers. Despite the setback, Toronto still managed to register a point for the 11th time in 12 outings, having gone 7-1-4 over that strong stretch.
Mats Zuccarello scored the lone goal in the shootout to give the Rangers a 3-2 victory at Madison Square Garden. Toronto had won its home portion of the series on Monday, notching a 4-3 regulation win.
Fresh off a two-goal, one-assist performance in Monday's triumph, Phil Kessel potted both Toronto markers in the loss. James Reimer finished with 26 saves for the Maple Leafs, who had won five of their last six coming in.
"At the end of the day we battled hard for a point and it's a very valuable point and we'll just keep working," said Reimer.
Toronto is 11-7-2 as the host this season and is playing two straight and three of its next four at the ACC.
The Maple Leafs could be without forwards Joffrey Lupul (concussion) and Mikhail Grabovski (illness) on Saturday. Lupul has been cleared for practice after missing the last three games, but is not expected to play against the Canadiens. Grabovski, who did play in New York on Thursday, is questionable for Saturday.
The Canadiens used goals from five different players and 14 saves from Peter Budaj to breeze to their playoff-clinching 5-1 win over the Sabres. The win also moved Montreal into first place in the Northeast Division, one point ahead of Boston after the Bruins lost to the Islanders on Thursday. The Bruins, who visit Carolina on Saturday, have eight games left in the regular season -- the same as Montreal.
Brendan Gallagher, Rene Bourque, Alex Galchenyuk, Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban all lit the lamp on Thursday for the Canadiens, who have won six of their last eight.
"It's always more fun when you can go in on a win. It's more exciting," said Gallagher. "We can look back at what we've done so far and be happy with it but we can't be satisfied. This is just the beginning."
Montreal, which will host Philadelphia on Monday, is 13-4-2 as the road club this season.