Leafs Face Habs At the Phone Booth
GAME: Toronto Maple Leafs (38-21-9-3) at Montreal Canadiens (37-26-6-3).
TIME: Saturday, 7 p.m. EST.
Though the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens are each fighting for playoff position, Canada's biggest rivalry remains one-sided.
The Canadiens would like to start changing that as they will try to halt a seven-game home winless streak against the Maple Leafs in a possible first-round playoff preview.
"It's like a playoff atmosphere and we always get up for these games," Toronto captain Mats Sundin said after his team's last visit to Montreal, a 4-1 win on Jan. 24. "It's the same when we're at home and there's a lot of Montreal fans.
"You can tell when you come out for the warmup that there's a different atmosphere."
A lot of Leafs' fans made the trip to the Bell Centre for that contest and many should do the same for this matchup as Toronto will try to run its unbeaten streak in Montreal to eight games. The Leafs are 4-0-3 there since March 31, 2001, and have lost just twice in 15 meetings overall in the last three seasons (9-2-4).
Toronto has won four straight over Montreal since losing the first matchup of the season. The Canadiens lost 5-4 in Toronto three weeks ago in front of 19,514 fans, the largest regular-season crowd in Leafs' history.
While the Leafs are tied with Ottawa for second place in the Northeast Division - one point behind Boston - they are five points ahead of the Canadiens.
If Toronto wins Saturday, it could climb within a point of the second seed in the East, which would face the conference's seventh-place team.
That slot currently belongs to Montreal, which is two back of New Jersey for sixth.
The Canadiens have come closer to assuring themselves of a playoff berth by earning at least one point in nine of 10 games (8-1-0-1).
A slow start coming off a five-game road trip, however, appeared to hurt Montreal in Thursday's 3-2 loss to Florida. The Canadiens were outshot 25-15 through two periods.
"We can't expect to win hockey games with a 20-minute effort," Habs coach Claude Julien said. "Coming back from a long trip, you fear those kinds of performances."
Toronto is coming off a significantly more disappointing defeat, losing 3-2 at home Thursday to league-worst Pittsburgh.
The Leafs had a season-high 46 shots to the Penguins' 17.
"We can't give away games like we did," Sundin said.
-- Associated Press