While the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens don’t have anything to play for, the Northeast Division rivals seem unlikely to go down without a fight as they close their schedules Saturday night.
Montreal (30-35-16) has allowed a combined 13 goals in dropping three straight home matchups with Toronto (35-36-10). The Leafs have taken three of five in the series this season - most recently prevailing 3-1 at the Bell Centre on March 3 behind two goals and an assist from Mikhail Grabovski.
“We have to get ready to give 100% in our last game now. There’s nothing else to save it for,” Canadiens goaltender Peter Budaj, who is expected to make his fourth consecutive start in place of injured Carey Price (concussion), told the team’s official website.
“They’re out of the playoffs, we’re out of the playoffs, but there’s still a lot of pride to play for - it will be a good battle.”
Assured of finishing last in the Eastern Conference and with fewer than 80 points for the first time since 2002-03, Montreal dropped to 1-2-3 over its last six games with Thursday’s 2-1 shootout loss at Carolina. Center Blake Geoffrion provided the team’s only offense while Budaj made 28 saves.
“All of us want to go into next year getting that confidence back,” Geoffrion said. “Playing for the future is really the message in the room right now, and playing for pride.”
Toronto is coming off its second win in three games, defeating Tampa Bay 3-2 in overtime Thursday. Jake Gardiner, who assisted on Tim Connolly’s first-period goal, tied the score with 2:55 remaining in regulation before fellow defenseman Dion Phaneuf notched the game-winner with 59 seconds to play.
The Leafs won their final two home games after losing a franchise-worst 11 straight there Feb. 11-March 29.
“We’ve got great fans,” said Phaneuf, who’s recorded just three points in his last 15 games. “We struggled at home for awhile, no one was happy about it. We have not been playing the way that we want to play.
“But we wanted to finish our year off, our last game at home in front of our fans, the way we (did).”
Gardiner, meanwhile, continues to impress in his first season in the league. He leads all rookie defenseman with 30 points - nine coming in his last 11 games.
“He’s had a really good year. I think that throughout the whole year he’s gotten better. He’s really taken a lot of strides,” Phaneuf said. “That’s what makes him so good is how he skates the puck and sees the ice - when he’s skating he’s a dangerous player.”
Ben Scrivens made 35 saves Thursday, improving to 4-4-2 with a 3.13 goals-against average on the season. Scrivens, who has never faced Montreal, is 0-2-1 with a 3.98 GAA in his last three road starts.
In his only career start versus Toronto, Budaj turned away 27 shots in a 4-1 Colorado road win Oct. 18, 2006. Budaj has done an admirable job filling in for Price, posting a 1.58 GAA over the Canadiens’ last three games.
Leading Montreal with 63 points, left winger Max Pacioretty has tallied 18 goals and 22 assists in 40 home games. He’s notched just six in 14 career matchups versus the Leafs, though.
Toronto’s Phil Kessel tallied his team-best 82nd point with an assist Thursday, giving him five in his last three games.