Preview: Maple Leafs at Canadiens
The Montreal Canadiens found themselves without a seat in a three-team version of musical chairs for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. With little more than pride on the line, the Canadiens are left to face the music in their season finale at the Bell Centre against the Original Six-rival Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.
Montreal put itself in the postseason mix with a 6-1-1 mark during an eight-game stretch before its 2-1 setback at Washington on Thursday put it on the ropes and Columbus' 3-2 shootout victory over the New York Rangers the following night served as the knockout blow. "Maybe it wasn't our best overall effort in the last little bit, but I don't think there's anyone in (our locker room) that didn't give everything for the team," said Canadiens captain Shea Weber, who scored the team's lone goal versus the Capitals. While Montreal is wrapping up its season, Toronto is expected to rest a few key cogs on Saturday as it prepares for a first-round rematch with rival Boston. "I won't have the full lineup. It's just precautionary," Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. "I won't have (Nazem Kadri and defenseman Jake Muzzin). We are not playing either one of them. ... One is sick and one has got -- I don't know what you'd say -- a boo-boo. They're fine."
TV: 7 p.m. ET, NHL Network, CBC, Sportsnet, Sportsnet 1, TVAS
ABOUT THE MAPLE LEAFS (46-28-7): Mitch Marner scored in the first period of Thursday's 3-1 setback versus Tampa Bay, giving him three points (one goal, two assists) over his last four games overall and 31 (10 goals, 21 assists) in 27 contests against Atlantic Division opponents this season. "I thought he was a star. I thought he was really good," Babcock said of the 21-year-old Marner. "He is a good hockey player. He makes good plays. He plays without the puck really, really well. In these big games, he is always in the right spot and knows how to play." Marner has three of his club-best 67 assists in the season series versus Montreal while John Tavares has scored two of his team-leading 47 goals and set up two others.
ABOUT THE CANADIENS (43-30-8): Weber's 203rd goal of his career during the first period on Thursday moved him into a tie for 20th place all-time in goals among defensemen. Phillip Danault extended his point streak to five games (one goal, four assists) by picking up his career-best 41st assist, moving within two of Max Domi for the team lead. The 26-year-old Danault also has a personal-best 53 points on the season, although he has failed to dent the scoresheet in three meetings with Toronto.
1. Toronto C Auston Matthews, who has been held off the scoresheet in his last three games overall, has three goals and an assist against Montreal this season.
2. Canadiens LW Tomas Tatar scored in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Maple Leafs on Feb. 9 and also tallied in a 6-3 setback in Toronto on Feb. 23.
3. Toronto G Frederik Andersen has turned aside 101 of 109 shots to win all three meetings with Montreal this season.
PREDICTION: Canadiens 4, Maple Leafs 1