With the Northeast Division looking like a two-team race, the four remaining matchups between a pair of Original Six rivals figure to take on extra significance.
The Boston Bruins certainly hope they don’t go like the last four.
The Montreal Canadiens look to beat Boston for a fifth consecutive time and reclaim first place when the clubs square off Saturday night at the Bell Centre.
After sitting atop the division for most of the season, the Canadiens (22-16-3) ceded that spot to Boston (21-12-6) during an ugly 2-8-0 stretch last month.
But Montreal has pulled back within one point of the Bruins by going 2-0-1 in its last three, including Thursday night’s 2-1 shootout win over Pittsburgh.
Carey Price(notes) - 2-7-1 with a 3.55 goals-against average in his previous 10 starts - stopped 31 shots and all five shootout attempts, while Benoit Pouliot(notes) scored in regulation and the tiebreaker.
The Canadiens may also draw some momentum from their recent history against Boston. Montreal has outscored the Bruins 14-7 while winning the last four meetings in regulation - two this season - improving to 7-1-0 since the start of 2009-10.
“That’s a big game,” said Price, who’s 11-2-2 with a 2.34 GAA against the Bruins in the regular season. “Those games are obviously four-point games.”
The Bruins got eight of a possible 10 points on their recent five-game road trip, but their six-game point streak was snapped in a 3-1 home loss to Minnesota on Thursday.
Tuukka Rask(notes) made his third straight start in goal, but Tim Thomas(notes) is likely to return Saturday. Although he matched a season high with four goals allowed in Montreal last month, falling to 3-7-2 with a 3.37 GAA in the regular season at the Bell Centre, Thomas still leads the NHL in GAA (1.80) and save percentage (.945).
There’s more concern about some of Boston’s forwards, especially Marc Savard(notes). The team leader with 88 points two seasons ago, Savard has just six points in 16 games since returning from post-concussion symptoms, and his minus-eight rating is the Bruins’ worst.
He played only three shifts in the third period Thursday, when his defensive-zone giveaway set up the winning goal for the Wild.
“When you make a mistake like that, a person has to be held accountable,” Boston coach Claude Julien said. “You don’t expect a guy like that to do something like that.”
The Bruins may try to hold Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban(notes) accountable for his physical play. The standout rookie pummeled Brad Marchand(notes) with a clean open-ice hit last month, and when Gregory Campbell(notes) tried to engage him, Subban skated away and left Campbell with the play’s only penalty.
“They’re trying to send a message that, ‘Hey, you’re not going to be able to just walk all over us,’ and I’m fine with that,” Subban said. “At that point I didn’t really want to fight.”
Subban may be expected to take on a bigger role after the Canadiens learned Thursday that defenseman Josh Gorges(notes) will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury. It’s unclear if ice time leader Roman Hamrlik(notes) will be available Saturday after missing Thursday’s game with an undisclosed injury.