As hot as the Montreal Canadiens have been, they certainly can’t afford to cool off now.
Part of a crowded mix at the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, Montreal goes for a season-high sixth consecutive victory as it meets the Ottawa Senators on Friday.
The Canadiens have won five in a row for the second time this season—they haven’t won six straight since late last season—to move into a tie for seventh place in the East standings. However, Montreal (40-31-6) is among six teams within three points of each other for the conference’s final three playoff spots.
Maybe the most impressive victory during this win streak came on Tuesday, when the Canadiens overcame a two-goal deficit to beat the New York Rangers 6-4. The Rangers had won five straight and goalie Henrik Lundqvist allowed only three goals in that span, but the Canadiens forced him from the game during their five-goal second period.
“These games right now mean a lot,” said Montreal captain Saku Koivu, who had four assists. “For us, it’s a must-win pretty much to the end and being down 2-0 after the first and being able to get those goals, it obviously makes it bigger and it’s something that you can get the confidence going and hopefully get it going from here on.”
No Montreal player should be more confident than Alexei Kovalev, coming off his second straight two-goal game after having none all season. The 14-year veteran scored only once in his previous 11 outings.
“Alex said it, he likes playing at this time of the year,” coach Guy Carbonneau said. “It’s his time. He’s playing hard and he’s saying the right things. He’s showing he wants to make it to the playoffs and he’s helping us do that.”
Montreal hosts Northeast Division-leading Buffalo on Saturday and Boston on Tuesday before closing the regular season with road games against the Rangers and Toronto—two of the teams fighting for one of the East’s last three playoff spots.
The Senators have wrapped up a postseason berth and are unlikely to catch Buffalo for the Northeast crown—seven points back with five games left—but are battling for the East’s fourth seed and home-ice advantage in the first round.
Ottawa (45-24-8) recorded a point in 11 consecutive games before losing 3-2 to last-place Boston on Tuesday. It was a disappointing return home for the Senators following a 3-0-1 road trip.
“We played so damn well on the road,” Ottawa coach Bryan Murray said. “The first and second period we just didn’t have that attitude. I thought we were careless and had a lot of turnovers.”
Murray’s club failed to score at least three goals for the first time in 12 games and was handed its first regulation loss in 14 home games since Jan. 18.
While the Senators are 1-for-18 on the power play in their last three home games, the Canadiens are 6-for-15 in their last three games overall. Ottawa has one of the league’s top penalty-killing units at 84.6 percent.
Ottawa has a 4-3-0 lead entering the finale of the season series between these clubs, which last met in a home-and-home set from Feb. 8-10. There could be a bit of bad blood left over because in the second game, Sens goaltender Ray Emery swatted Montreal center Maxim Lapierre in the face with his stick following a collision in the crease.
Carbonneau said after the game there was “an attempt to injure,” and the NHL agreed, suspending Emery three games for the incident. Lapierre was wearing a visor so he avoided getting hurt.