The Colorado Avalanche and Montreal Canadiens have put themselves in favourable shape to have home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, but there's still plenty of work to do.
The race for postseason positioning might be overshadowed Tuesday night in Montreal.
There figures to be an awfully loud ovation for the visiting coach as Patrick Roy returns to Montreal for the first time as a coach with an Avalanche team that's one of the league's best on the road.
If it were up to some Canadiens fans, Roy might be on the other bench.
"I could have both jobs if it was voted by the fans," Roy said Monday, referencing fan polls from spring 2012 when the franchise was in the midst of hiring a new coach and general manager. "I truly appreciated that. I thought that was a great gesture from them to give me that opportunity to be on top, and it made me feel good with the fans. I mean, it's not that I had doubt, but at the same time, it was nice to see that the past was way behind us and everybody moved on."
The past he was referring to was the trade he demanded in 1995 after spending 11-plus seasons of his Hall of Fame goaltending career with the Canadiens.
Even in more hostile environments, the Avalanche (44-19-5) haven't had many complaints about road dates this season. They're after their fifth straight road win, and while Roy downplayed his return, his players understand it's a special night.
"It's a big night for him, but he's going to play it off like it's not about him," center Matt Duchene told the team's official website. "That's the way he is, and it won't be a distraction, by any means."
Colorado started a three-game Canadian swing Sunday with a 3-1 win at Ottawa to improve to 21-9-2 on the road. Duchene had two assists while Andre Benoit, Nick Holden and John Mitchell scored to help the Avalanche to their seventh win in nine games.
Duchene, the team's points leader with 64, has 16 in 11 games while Mitchell has three goals and two assists in his last four after going 11 without a point. But it was Semyon Varlamov's 38-save performance that had Roy's attention.
"Our goalie was without a doubt the first star of the game," Roy said.
Varlamov will get the night off against the Canadiens (37-25-7) as Jean-Sebastien Giguere starts against Montreal for the second time this season.
The Avalanche have won four straight against the Canadiens, including a 4-1 victory in Colorado on Nov. 2 in Roy's first game coaching against Montreal. Giguere made 29 saves to improve to 7-1-0 with a 2.26 goals-against average against the Canadiens since Dec. 10, 2005.
Montreal carried the momentum from a three-goal rally in Saturday's 5-4 home win over Ottawa into Buffalo on Sunday. The Canadiens got first-period goals from Dale Weise and Brendan Gallagher, and rookie goaltender Dustin Tokarski made 29 saves for his first career shutout in a 2-0 victory.
"Every time you play an emotional game, as a coach you're always afraid that the next game could be tougher," said coach Michel Therrien, who was chosen over Roy in Montreal's coaching search. "But we got a really good start, and this is something we've been doing lately."
Carey Price started against the Senators, his first game since aggravating a lower-body injury during the Olympics. He'll likely be in net Tuesday, and though he'd be facing a team coached by one of his favourite players from his childhood, Price's focus won't change.
"He's obviously a special player when it comes to this franchise, but at the end of the day it's not about that," Price said. "It's about our team versus theirs on the ice, and right now we're just in desperation mode trying to pick up points."
Colorado is the only NHL franchise Price hasn't beaten. The Olympic gold medallist is 0-2-1 with a 3.61 GAA and .864 save percentage against the Avalanche.