Rangers-Canadiens Preview

TOM CASTRO (STATS Senior Editor)
The Associated Press

The Montreal Canadiens jumped back into first place in the Northeast Division by avoiding a third straight loss their last time out.

They may have a good chance to get on another roll starting Saturday night when they look to continue their domination of the slumping and offensively challenged New York Rangers.

The Canadiens (21-7-5) have been off since Wednesday, when they defeated Boston 6-5 in a shootout to move one point ahead of the Bruins for the top spot in the division. Montreal erased a two-goal third-period deficit, getting the equalizer from Andrei Markov with 8.2 seconds left.

''When you get down two goals twice and come back (with) two goals you have a lot of character,'' said rookie right wing Brendan Gallagher, who scored in the third and added the shootout winner. ''It's great to see it.''

Montreal had managed one goal over its past two games before scoring three times in the third Wednesday.

''In the third, we knew we had to change it up a bit and start getting back to our game,'' said forward Michael Ryder, who scored twice, ''getting pucks deep and skating. That's what we do best.''

The Canadiens have certainly done it at home against the Rangers in recent seasons, winning seven consecutive meetings there and allowing one total goal in the last four of those, with four shutouts during the seven-game span. Montreal has gone 9-0-1 in the past 10 home matchups, outscoring New York 42-18.

Leading the way has been Carey Price, who has blanked the Rangers in three straight home starts and hasn't given up a goal to them at the Bell Centre in 192 minutes, 45 seconds. He made 17 saves in a 3-0 victory Feb. 23 for Montreal's second win in as many meetings with New York this season.

If he's in net Saturday, he'll have some added incentive to play well after being pulled Wednesday, when he allowed four goals on 26 shots and was replaced by Peter Budaj.

Whoever gets the start will be facing a Rangers team that continued its season-long run of inconsistency in another punchless performance Thursday. New York (16-14-3) couldn't build on a 5-2 win over Philadelphia in its previous game, losing 3-0 at Ottawa to give it a 3-5-1 mark in its past nine.

Excluding the Flyers game, the Rangers have totaled 10 goals in their past eight contests. Tied with the Islanders for final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, they missed a chance to move into a tie with New Jersey for seventh.

''I don't know what to say. I have a few thoughts but I don't think it's going to help our group right now. Bottom line is it's not good enough and we're not going to make it (to the postseason) if ...'' said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, trailing off before continuing. ''We need everybody right now and we need top plays and smart plays for 60 minutes.

''We're playing teams that are working really hard and we have to match it. If we're not matching it we're not going to win.''

The Rangers' 78 goals are the fewest in the NHL. They've gone 2 for their last 21 on the power play and rank near the bottom of the NHL at 14.6 percent.

They've also given up one power-play goal in each of their last five games and seven of eight.

"I talked about it the other night that if we're losing special teams (battles) we'll have a tough time winning games," Lundqvist said. "It's really disappointing and I'm going to leave it at that.''

Montreal has won four of five in the series overall.