Montreal is in ninth place in the East, one point behind Atlanta, while Toronto trails the Thrashers by six points. The Canadiens expanded their lead over the Leafs with a 5-1 win on Thursday.
Alex Kovalev’s power-play goal at 17:56 of the first period gave Montreal a 4-0 lead, and he also had an assist to extend his point streak to eight games. He has two goals and seven assists over that span.
“We’ve got to hate everybody, every team out there—not just the Maple Leafs,” Kovalev said. “If you hate every team out there, you should end up higher in the standings. You’ve got to be like that against every team and play with that kind of effort.”
Kovalev has seven goals and 14 assists while leading Montreal to a 10-5-3 record over the last 18 games.
Thursday’s win ended a three-game home skid for the Canadiens, who have lost four of their last six.
“I wouldn’t say desperation was our situation,” Montreal coach Bob Gainey said. “It was more I think a really clear and attractive pursuit of the goals that we want.”
Toronto center Mats Sundin said the Canadiens’ quick strike wasn’t because the Leafs were outplayed.
“The first few shifts we had out there we got the start we wanted, and the first couple of chances they had, the puck went in the net,” Sundin said. “Sometimes, that happens.”
Toronto has not scored an even-strength goal in its last 17 periods, and has been outscored 15-8 while losing three of its last five games. The Leafs have lost eight of nine and 13 of their last 15 away from the Air Canada Centre.
“We’re trying to stick together here and do the proper things and do the proper plays and work hard in practice and find ways to win hockey games,” Leafs center Darcy Tucker said. “But it’s awfully frustrating when you lose.”
Kovalev expects a tougher battle on Saturday.
“They are going to play a little bit of a tighter game next time,” he said.
This is the eighth and final meeting between these teams this season. Montreal has won two of the last three after losing three of the first four matchups.