Canadiens-Maple Leafs Preview

The Associated Press

The Toronto Maple Leafs viewed this week's schedule against Eastern Conference foes as crucial for making a playoff push.

So far, they've been able to take full advantage.

The Maple Leafs look to win four straight for the first time in nearly a year Saturday night when they host the Montreal Canadiens.

Toronto (24-20-5) started the week outside the playoff picture but has reeled off wins over New Jersey, Boston and Buffalo to move into a wild-card spot. This is the fifth three-game winning streak of the season for the Maple Leafs, who haven't won four in a row since Feb. 5-11.

They are coming off their ninth shootout victory of the season, 4-3 over the Sabres on Wednesday. The Leafs, who went 0 for 5 in shootouts last season, have just three regulation victories in their last 28 games but have managed to go 11-13-4.

"Obviously, we're fortunate this year that our record in the shootout is a real, strong positive for our hockey club," coach Randy Carlyle said. "There's been a lot of extra points gained by it."

Tyler Bozak had the shootout winner and has keyed Toronto's win streak, tallying three goals and an assist.

Phil Kessel, who scored his team-leading 22nd goal Wednesday, has two goals and six assists in his last four games.

"It's always nice when you're having some success," said Joffrey Lupul, who scored for the sixth time in seven shootout attempts Wednesday. "The game's easier when you're scoring and having success."

The Leafs, who trail the Canadiens (27-16-5) by six points, suffered a 4-2 loss in Montreal on Nov. 30 after winning the season opener there 4-3. They've lost four of the last five meetings in Toronto.

The lone win was Canadiens goalie Carey Price's last start at Air Canada Centre on April 13, when he gave up three goals on four shots and was pulled after 10 minutes, 25 seconds.

While that was one of the worst showings of his career, Price is coming off what he called one of his best of the season. Price faced 38 shots through two periods Thursday against Ottawa and finished with 40 saves in the 5-4 overtime win.

"The reason for tonight's win is Carey Price. ... I thought he was extraordinary," said coach Michel Therrien, who has confirmed Price will start against Toronto.

The Canadiens jumped out to a 3-0 lead 15:36 into the first period, but they entered the third trailing 4-3. Tomas Plekanec's second goal of the game midway through the final period tied the score, and P.K. Subban netted the winner 23 seconds into overtime.

"We got to learn from this and not put ourselves in that position again," Subban said.

Max Pacioretty scored his team-leading 21st goal, and he has six in the last eight games along with four assists. He scored on the Canadiens' only power-play opportunity after the team had gone 0 for 17 with the extra skater in its previous five games.

The Maple Leafs are struggling a bit when they're a man down, killing 73.3 percent of penalties in the last 10 games.

Jonathan Bernier appears likely to start in net for Toronto after James Reimer faced the Sabres. Bernier has stopped 74 of 79 shots in winning his last two starts but has a 3.39 goals-against average in losing his three career starts versus Montreal.