Habs closing in on Northeast lead
The Montreal Canadiens can get to within one point of the Northeast Division lead on Friday and separate themselves from the New York Rangers on Friday with a win at Madison Square Garden.
The Canadiens beat Tampa Bay on Thursday and saw Northeast leaders Boston lose in overtime in Nashville. The Habs are three points behind, although the Bruins will have two games in hand by the end of the night.
Goalie Carey Price tied Detroit's Jimmy Howard for the league lead with his 34th win Thursday, stopping 35 shots through overtime in a 3-2 shootout victory over Tampa Bay.
"It starts with your goaltender. Carey was strong," Canadiens coach Jacques Martin said of Price, 5-1-0 with a 1.33 goals-against average and two shutouts in his last six road games.
Andrei Kostitsyn and Brian Gionta scored in regulation, and former Ranger Nigel Dawes and Mike Cammalleri found the mark in the shootout, which will play its second straight game without leading scorer Tomas Plekanec (lower body injury).
Hal Gill missed the game with the flu, adding to the sideline roll.
Price has beaten New York twice this season, including a 35-save performance in a 2-0 win Feb. 5 in Montreal.
Early reports Friday had Martin returning Price after the 65-minute effort on Thursday, instead of opting for backup Alex Auld.
The Canadiens will almost certainly be trying to continue their mastery over the Rangers against Henrik Lundqvist. For his part, Lundqvist will try to reach 30 wins for the sixth consecutive season.
The Rangers have been outscored 16-4 while losing five straight to the Canadiens, with three goals coming in three games this season. That lack of success is one reason why seventh-place New York (37-30-4) trails Montreal (39-25-7) by seven points with 11 games left.
New York (78 points) also is trying to hold off several teams looking to sneak into the postseason. Buffalo (76) holds the eighth and final playoff spot followed by Carolina (74), Atlanta and Toronto (72), and resurgent New Jersey (70).
While New York could easily move up or down the conference ladder over the coming weeks, the focus is squarely on its Original Six rival for now.
"No matter who we're playing, we need two points," forward Ryan Callahan said Thursday. "We're playing a good team in Montreal, who's right there in front of us. It's a big game going into the Garden."
New York will be looking for its third straight win. After a lackluster loss at Anaheim on March 9, the Rangers slipped past San Jose in a shootout Saturday, then beat the Islanders 6-3 on Tuesday at MSG.
Callahan broke a 2-all tie midway through the second period before Marian Gaborik scored the first of his two goals, giving him 20 during another injury-shortened season. Erik Christensen and Bryan McCabe each added a goal and assist.