Anxious time for Habs
Montreal fans will have one eye on their team and the other on the out-of-town scoreboard on Tuesday night as the Canadiens host the Chicago Blackhawks while simultaneously the Florida Panthers entertain the Ottawa Senators (7:30 p.m. ET).
When the dust settles, the Eastern Conference playoff picture could look a little more clear. Or just as muddled.
Heading into the big night, Montreal (38-27-10, 86 points) leads Florida (37-28-11, 85 points) for the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference.
A victory combined with a Panthers loss in regulation would give the Canadiens a solid three-point advantage with a dozen days left in the regular season. Reverse the results, though, and suddenly Florida is in the driver's seat.
The Habs have played one fewer game and have one more win, which is the first tie-breaking criterion should the teams finish the regular season with the same number of points.
Montreal lost some ground on Saturday when it managed just a single point in a 4-3 shootout loss at home to the Buffalo Sabres while the Panthers won 6-3 at Dallas.
Despite losing to the 10th-place Sabres, who have slim playoff hopes at four points back of Montreal, the Canadiens have played better of late. Since an 0-3-2 stretch from March 14-21, they've taken five of a possible six points.
After their five-game homestand wraps up Tuesday night, the Habs play four of their final six games on the road, where they're an ugly 15-19-3 this season.
In Tuesday's game, Chicago goalie Cristobal Huet returns to Montreal for the first time since the Canadiens traded him last season.
Huet was 21-12-6 with a 2.55 goals-against average last season when the Canadiens traded him to Washington in late February in order to signal that rookie Carey Price was the No. 1 guy.
Huet went 11-2-0 with a 1.63 GAA and won three playoff games for the Capitals before signing a four-year, $22.5-million US deal with Chicago in July. He is 19-14-4 with a 2.50 GAA this season, but hasn't started since making 24 saves in a 4-3 overtime loss at Columbus on March 18.
After Nikolai Khabibulin started Chicago's last five games, including a 4-0 home loss to Vancouver on Sunday, coach Joel Quenneville will go with Huet to help the Blackhawks (40-23-11) avoid a season-high fifth straight road loss.
Huet will face Carey Price, who gets his fourth consecutive start in goal for the Canadiens.
"We've got eight games and everyone is more important than the next," Quenneville, whose team is tied with Vancouver for fourth in the Western Conference, told the Blackhawks' official website. "Everything gets compounded. It's a fun time of the year."
Florida rebounds after Buffalo loss
Fun is not what Florida was having last week during a 1-4-3 slide. But after squandering a two-goal third-period lead to lose in Buffalo last Wednesday, the Panthers whipped Philadelphia and Dallas by a combined 10-5 score.
"We wanted to get two of three on this trip, and we got them," Panthers coach Peter DeBoer said.
The Panthers play four of their final six at home including a three-game homestand starting Tuesday against the Senators.
Ottawa (33-32-10) is in 11th place, 10 points behind the Canadiens, and could be officially eliminated from post-season contention with a regulation loss and a Canadiens victory over Chicago on Tuesday.
Still, the Senators have been one of the league's hottest teams lately, winning 10 of their last 13.
They won 3-0 at Tampa Bay on Sunday, as rookie Brian Elliott made 20 saves for his first NHL shutout.
With files from the Associated Press