Habs seek to extend dominance of Hurricanes

( - The first-place Montreal Canadiens hope to continue their dominance of the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday, when they try to extend their lead atop the Atlantic Division.

The Canadiens enter tonight's home test at the Bell Centre with 95 points, two more than the idle Tampa Bay Lightning for the division lead. Montreal is tied with the New York Rangers for the most points in the Eastern Conference and is two behind Anaheim for the NHL lead. The Ducks and Rangers also are off on Thursday.

Montreal should have a good chance of building a bigger cushion in the Atlantic considering its recent history versus the Hurricanes, who have lost four straight in the series and were outscored by a combined margin of 7-2 in two previous meetings this season.

The Canadiens have earned at least a point in nine straight encounters (7-0-2) against Carolina overall. Montreal has won four straight and seven of the past eight meetings in Quebec.

The Habs went 2-1-0 on a recent three-game road trip and will play two straight at the Bell Centre, including tonight's test and Saturday's game versus San Jose. Montreal has lost its last two on home ice, but still boasts a 22-8-5 mark as the host this season.

After dropping an important 4-2 decision Monday in Tampa, the Canadiens rebounded the following night with a 3-2 victory over Florida.

Carey Price's backup Dustin Tokarski turned in a superb effort in the win over the Panthers, stopping 41 shots to anchor the close regulation victory.

"There's always going to be tough games where you have to grind them out, and we did that tonight," said Tokarski.

All five goals in the tilt were scored in the second period, with Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban providing the game-winner with 4:34 remaining in the period. Jacob De La Rose added a goal and an assist while Alexei Emelin also scored for the Canadiens, who had lost three of four coming in.

Price, a candidate for the Hart and Vezina Trophies, is expected to be back in net tonight. He is 12-5-2 with a 2.20 goals against average in his career versus the Hurricanes.

Carolina, which is close to being mathematically eliminated from the playoff race, has lost four of its last five games and is just 2-4-2 in March.

The 'Canes lost a 2-1 overtime decision against visiting Ottawa on Tuesday. Mark Stone scored with just 13.4 seconds remaining in OT to deliver the victory for the Senators.

Anton Khudobin finished with 31 saves for Carolina, with Elias Lindholm recorded a first-period goal in the loss.

Khudobin is expected to make a third straight start tonight with Cam Ward sidelined with an illness.

Carolina is 11-20-4 as the visiting team this season.