There's been much talk of a potential playoff matchup between the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins in the wake of Zdeno Chara's watershed hit on Max Pacioretty.
As it stands, the odds are favourable for such a third- and sixth-place matchup, regardless of which of the bitter rivals takes the higher seed by virtue of winning the Northeast.
But with 12 games to play, it's by no means guaranteed. There are a few other possibilities within the realm for Montreal, including the fifth-place Tampa Bay Lightning squad they host on Thursday at Bell Centre.
With arguably the game's dynamic uninjured player in Steven Stamkos and Quebec natives Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Simon Gagne, it would certainly be a marquee playoff matchup.
The chances of such a pairing are probably more likely if Montreal manages to move up from sixth to third, and they could make up that margin wins against the Lightning and New York Rangers on Friday, coupled with a Boston loss on Thursday against Nashville.
Both Northeast clubs would have the same amount of points, although the Bruins would have two games in hand.
As well, the challenge is great.
Leaving aside the merits of the opposition over the next two nights, the Habs are a bit banged up.
Nigel Dawes and Aaron Palushaj were called up from the American Hockey League on Wednesday, indicating that Tomas Plekanec and Jeff Halpern are likely out with injuries suffered in Montreal's 4-2 loss to the Capitals.
The Canadiens characterized the expected absences of Plekanec and Halpern in terms of days, not weeks. But in the short term, they join a list of wounded regulars that includes Mathieu Darche, Brent Sopel and, of course, Pacioretty, who suffered a confussion and severe injuries.
Habs' power play fails
Montreal tried its best to end Washington's lengthy winning streak on Tuesday, but the Capitals scored two in the final period to break a tie.
Travis Moen and Andrei Kostitsyn scored, while Carey Price finished with 37 saves, as the Habs were outshot 35-18 through two periods. It was the most goals Price had allowed in over three weeks.
Montreal's power play failed for the third straight game, during which the Habs have gone 0-for-8.
They did score two with the man advantage in a win over the Lightning 12 days ago.
Tampa Bay pulled away from Toronto on Monday, winning 6-2. With injuries to Ryan Malone and Steve Downie, the Lightning had experienced trouble getting goals from their depth players.
But Matias Ritola scored two, and Mike Lundin, Nate Thompson and Dominic Moore added one each. Teddy Purcell helped set up three goals, while Brett Clark chipped in with two assists.
Lecavalier, meanwhile, scored for the second straight game. He has 15 goals and 22 assists in 46 regular-season games against the Canadiens.
The Lightning hold the advantage with respect to the season series. Tampa Bay has four points, Montreal has three.
The Canadiens have the edge in non-shootout wins (36 to 33), the primary standings tiebreaker at the end of the regular season.
Tampa Bay is on the verge of its first post-season berth in four years, and the franchise hasn't won a playoff round since its Stanley Cup win before the lockout in 2004.
Montreal returns to action with a Sunday game on Hockey Night in Canada, visiting the Minnesota Wild.