The Canadiens have been off since Wednesday, when they defeated Atlanta 2-1 for their third win in a row and sixth in seven games.
Montreal got a big break, as Mike Ribeiro scored for the Habs with 10 1/2 minutes remaining when an Atlanta player inadvertently knocked the puck in his own net.
“All I was trying to do was challenge the defense,” Ribeiro said. “It was a lucky goal, but I’ll take it.”
Luck hasn’t been a major factor in the Canadiens’ outstanding run. Montreal has been dominant during the last seven games, outscoring opponents 27-6 in its six wins during the stretch. The Habs have allowed more than one goal once in those six victories.
Montreal has gained points in 10 straight games, going 7-1-1-1 in that span, and has pulled within one point of third-place Boston and two points of second-place Ottawa in the Northeast Division.
A resurgent Jose Theodore has been a major reason for the Canadiens’ outstanding play. On Wednesday, he stopped 18 of 19 shots in the third period and finished with 36 saves.
Theodore has lowered his goals-against average to 2.02, and feels he has gotten back to the form that earned him the Hart Trophy as league MVP two seasons ago.
“I’m better now,” Theodore said. “I’m more experienced. I have better communication with my defense.”
Theodore is likely to be back in net Saturday against an improving Rangers team that is coming off an encouraging 3-3 tie with New Jersey on Thursday night.
Mark Messier set up Matthew Barnaby for the tying goal with 1:49 left in regulation for the Rangers, who put together a solid effort against a club that has dominated them during the regular season in the past seven years. New York is 1-21-13-1 versus the Devils since Feb. 17, 1997.
“The Devils are a good team and they very rarely beat themselves,” Messier said. “We have to play start to finish to beat them.”
Playing consistent and hard for 60 minutes from game to game has been the Rangers’ biggest problem this season, but the hard-fought draw Thursday followed a 4-1 win over the New York Islanders on Tuesday.
Center Eric Lindros has been a catalyst for the Rangers’ surge, rediscovering his physical style of years past and recording four goals and seven assists in the past 12 games.
“It’s a trickle-down effect,” Barnaby, Lindros’ linemate, said. “When he’s playing like that, he gets everybody fired up.”
The Rangers, 2-0-1-1 in their last four, are five games into a stretch of 14 games in 23 days—all against Eastern Conference opponents, and many against teams that New York is battling for a playoff spot.
STANDINGS (through Jan. 15): Rangers - 46 points, 3rd place, 9 PB, Atlantic Division. Canadiens - 53 points, 4th place, 6 PB, Northeast Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Rangers - Messier, 13 goals; Alex Kovalev, 24 assists and 33 points; Chris Simon, 159 PIM. Canadiens - Richard Zednik, 15 goals; Ribeiro, 26 assists and 37 points; Darren Langdon, 84 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through Jan. 15): Rangers - Power play: 14.8 percent (26 for 176), 17th in NHL. Penalty killing: 83.2 percent (183 for 220), 18th. Canadiens - Power play: 18.9 percent (34 for 180), 8th. Penalty killing: 84.2 percent (149 for 177), 17th.
SEASON SERIES: 1-1.
LAST MEETING: Dec. 10; Canadiens, 2-1. At New York, Ribeiro scored in the first period, and Jan Bulis’ goal in the third period lifted the Habs to the win.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Rangers - 9-10-3-0 on the road; Canadiens - 13-8-3-0 at home.