Habs eye sole possession of Atlantic lead in clash with Leafs

(SportsNetwork.com) - The Montreal Canadiens are locked in a heated battle for first place in the Atlantic Division. The Toronto Maple Leafs, meanwhile, have been floundering since the middle of December.

With the franchises headed in opposite directions, the Habs and Leafs will get together Saturday night in Montreal for another chapter in one of hockey's greatest rivalries.

Montreal enters tonight's clash at the Bell Centre with 74 points, tying it with Tampa Bay for the top spot in the Atlantic while Detroit is just three points behind in third place. The Habs currently hold the tiebreaker over the Lightning due to having played three fewer games.

The Red Wings are set to host Winnipeg on Saturday, but the Lightning are idle before visiting San Jose on Sunday.

The Canadiens own an 8-2-1 record over their past 11 games, but the club had a three-game winning streak snapped with an overtime loss in Thursday's disappointing effort against Edmonton. Anton Lander scored the game-winning goal for the Oilers at 1:47 of the extra session.

Montreal led 2-0 in the early stages of the second period before letting the Oilers even things. The Habs later carried a 3-2 lead into the final minute of regulation, but Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored with 25 seconds left to send the game to OT.

Christian Thomas notched his first NHL goal for the Canadiens and P.K. Subban posted two assists. Alex Galchenyuk and Max Pacioretty also lit the lamp, while Dustin Tokarski allowed all four goals on 38 shots.

"We were lucky to get out with one point," Montreal head coach Michel Therrien said. "I am very disappointed with how we played. It was a terrible game for us."

Carey Price will be back in net tonight when the Habs complete a three- game homestand. Montreal's No. 1 netminder is sporting a 14-13-1 record with a 2.74 goals against average in his career against Toronto.

The Canadiens have won three straight and four of their last five against the Maple Leafs. This is the first encounter between the Original Six rivals since the series opener in Toronto on Oct. 8, when Montreal recorded a 4-3 regulation win. The Leafs have lost the last two encounters at the Bell Centre.

Toronto's high point of the season came during a six-game winning streak from Dec. 6-16, but the club has fallen off a cliff since then, going 4-20-1 over the last 25 games.

The Leafs have dropped their last two tests and lost for the 13th time in 14 outings in Thursday's road tilt against the New York Islanders. Anders Lee scored a pair of goals to help the Isles earn the 3-2 regulation win.

Jonathan Bernier was saddled with the loss despite making 38 saves for Toronto. Richard Panik posting a goal and assist and Trevor Smith also lit the lamp.

The Leafs found themselves trailing 2-0 just over four minutes into the game, but were able to forge a tie before Lee provided the game-winner with 7:58 remaining in the second period.

"It's bewildering to me when we have these poor starts," said Toronto interim coach Peter Horachek. "Only when we get our dander up do we seem to respond. We showed character coming back, but we shouldn't need a bad start to get it going."

Toronto fell to 7-17-4 as the visiting team and has lost 12 in a row as the guest since winning at Boston on New Year's Eve.

Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul missed Thursday's tilt with a lower-body injury and is expected to sit out again tonight.