Preview: Lightning at Canadiens
The Montreal Canadiens can’t afford to let any points get away as they begin the final week of their quest for a playoff spot with a home contest against the Presidents' Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday. Montreal has earned points in six of its last seven contests (5-1-1) after posting a 3-1 win at Winnipeg on Saturday but trails Carolina by one for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference with three games to go - all against teams in a playoff position.
“I don’t want our team to not do their job and hope somebody else does it for them,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien told the Montreal Gazette. “That’s kind of where I’m going with our hockey club. I’d like to see us take control of our own destiny, win the games that we have left and hopefully that will get is into the playoffs.” The Canadiens have dropped five straight - three this season - against the Lightning, who knocked off Ottawa 5-2 on Monday behind two goals and an assist from Yanni Gourde to start a season-ending four-game road trip. Tampa Bay tied the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens for the second-most wins in a season (60) on Monday and is two away from the NHL record set by the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings. Andrei Vasilevskiy, who posted his league-leading 38th victory, is expected to be rested Tuesday in favor of Eddie Pasquale, who would be making his second NHL start after being recalled from Syracuse of the American Hockey League on Monday with backup Louis Domingue hampered by a lower-body injury.
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, FS Sun (Tampa Bay), TSN2, RDS (Montreal)
ABOUT THE LIGHTNING (60-15-4): Defenseman Victor Hedman (upper body) sat out Monday's contest and is not likely to play on the road trip, but he is hopeful to return for the first game of the playoffs. Nikita Kucherov remained one goal away from reaching 40 for the second time in his career but registered three assists against Ottawa to push his league-leading total to 125 points. Brayden Point scored his career-high 41st goal, but captain Steven Stamkos took back the team lead by tallying for the seventh time in seven games on Monday to reach 42 - his highest total since 2014-15, when he recorded 43.
ABOUT THE CANADIENS (42-29-8): Jordan Weal has been productive since being acquired from Arizona at the trade deadline, registering three goals and five assists in 13 games, and skated on a line with Joel Armia and Jonathan Drouin on Saturday. Max Domi tops the team with 70 points after recording eight (three goals, five assists) over his last seven games while Tomas Tatar has collected six of his 57 in the last five contests. Brendan Gallagher has netted three of his team-high 33 goals in his last seven games and defenseman Jeff Petry has scored in back-to-back contests.
1. Kucherov is two points away from tying Alexander Mogilny (127 in 1992-93) for most by a Russian-born player in a single season.
2. Montreal G Carey Price (34-23-6, .917 save percentage) has allowed two goals or fewer in eight of his last 10 starts.
3. Tampa Bay D Anton Stralman, who has missed the last 12 games with a lower-body injury, is expected to return before the end of the regular season.
PREDICTION: Canadiens 4, Lightning 3