The Los Angeles Kings and Montreal Canadiens are two of the NHL's hottest teams.
Los Angeles' offence has woken up after suffering through a lull prior to the Olympic break, while some surprising backup goaltending has helped Montreal continue to roll. But the Canadiens might need another strong performance in net from Peter Budaj with Carey Price's availability still in question for Monday night's game at Los Angeles.
Montreal (34-21-7) has won five of six and has scored four-plus goals in four of its last five games. The Canadiens are coming off a 4-3 overtime home victory over Toronto on Saturday, though they squandered a 2-0 lead when Phil Kessel put the Maple Leafs ahead early in the third period. P.K. Subban forced OT with a goal midway through the third, then Max Pacioretty notched his second goal 3:28 into OT, with Andrei Markov getting his third assist of the night. He has seven assists over his last five games.
Meanwhile, Budaj stopped 22 shots in his third straight start in place of Price, who suffered a suspected groin injury during practice earlier in the week. Budaj allowed five goals on 32 shots Thursday against Pittsburgh, but helped secure victory in the shootout when he stopped attempts from James Neal, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. He also made 28 saves in Wednesday's 2-1 OT loss to Detroit.
Price is expected to travel with Montreal for its four-game Pacific Division trip, though he's still day-to-day. Budaj owns a 2.85 goals-against average in 10 career starts versus Los Angeles.
"He's been unbelievable," Pacioretty, who also had a goal and an assist against the Penguins, said of Budaj.
"He's kept us in all three games he's played and he's made key saves at key moments. That's probably the most important thing a goalie can do."
Los Angeles (34-22-6) figures to provide a challenge for whoever's in net, given its recent offensive surge. The Kings have won four straight while scoring 13 goals after tallying as many during their previous 1-8-1 stretch.
"It's no secret we weren't happy with our game before the break started," said Kings defenceman Alec Martinez, who scored the go-ahead goal with 11:45 remaining in Saturday's 3-1 home victory over Carolina.
"We worked on a lot of things. And we knew that when we came back, this would be crunch-time -- playoff hockey."
Anze Kopitar also tallied his team-leading 32nd assist and has three goals and five assists in his last five games, while Jonathan Quick was strong again in net with 24 saves. Quick is undefeated in three starts since the Olympic break, stopping 73 of 75 shots. He had lost eight of his previous nine starts while posting a .891 save percentage. He was less than stellar in his only two career starts against the Canadiens, losing both while surrendering seven goals on 50 shots.
Montreal had won nine of 10 in the series until Los Angeles' 6-0 road victory on Dec. 10. Martin Jones stopped 31 shots in the midst of Quick's 24-game absence due to a strained groin. Price was pulled in the second period after surrendering four goals on 16 shots.
The Canadiens have four power-play goals on nine chances over their last two games, while the Kings haven't yielded a score on the penalty kill in two straight after allowing at least one in each of their previous six contests.