The Montreal Canadiens are holding onto one of the Eastern Conference’s final three playoff spots, but their grip is getting progressively more tenuous.
The Carolina Hurricanes’ track record at the Bell Centre has been nearly spotless in recent years, and they’ll look to pick up at least a point for the 10th straight time there Wednesday night.
The Canadiens (37-31-8) were a point back of Ottawa for fifth place in the East after earning their sixth straight win March 16, but two weeks later the Senators have put some distance between themselves and Montreal.
Of greater concern are the teams from sixth through 10th. While Philadelphia, Montreal and Boston have the inside track on the final three playoff spots, Atlanta and the New York Rangers aren’t far back.
The Canadiens fell to 1-2-2 in their last five games with Saturday’s 4-2 home loss to New Jersey.
“Before going to bed, I always do a quick check on NHL.com,” said Michael Cammalleri(notes), who leads Montreal with 26 goals despite returning last week from an MCL sprain that cost him 17 games. “I click on ‘Standings’ then ‘Conference’ to see where we’re at after the games each night. Some guys like doing that more than others, but we all know that we’re still in a good spot.”
The Canadiens have scored 10 goals and are 2 for 21 on the power play in this poor stretch, and it initially looked like coach Jacques Martin was planning to reshuffle his lines for Wednesday. Struggling Benoit Pouliot(notes), with one goal in his last eight games, was taken off a line with Scott Gomez(notes) and Brian Gionta(notes) in Monday’s practice.
“The coach didn’t do that for nothing,” Pouliot told the Canadiens’ official Web site. “Maybe it can get me going and I can help the team win. Even if it’s hard to take, the coach just wants the best out of you.”
Carolina (32-35-9) has bounced back from its woeful start to go 17-7-2 in its last 26, and it figures to have a good shot at leaving Bell Centre with two points. The Hurricanes are 7-0-2 there since the start of 2005-06, falling 3-2 in a shootout Nov. 17.
Jussi Jokinen(notes) scored twice in Monday’s 4-1 win at Atlanta after the Thrashers won 4-0 in Raleigh two days earlier. Though the Hurricanes were pleased with how they bounced back, failing to get any points Saturday may have closed the door on their chances for a playoff spot.
“We had a team meeting (Monday) morning and said we had to play harder,” said Jokinen, who snapped a nine-game drought. “It’s going to be an uphill climb for us.”
“I felt more and more confident as the game went on,” Ward said. “I was excited and also a bit nervous, because I had been away from the game for so long.”
Ward was 4-0-1 with a 1.57 goals-against average in his last five starts against the Canadiens before allowing three goals and being pulled 10 minutes into a 5-1 home loss Dec. 23.