Habs host Canucks before saying hello to bye

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They have done it very infrequently this season, but the Montreal Canadiens will try to play to their identity for a second straight game when they host the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday at Bell Centre.

The Canadiens (17-20-4) ended a five-game losing streak with a 2-1 shootout win over the NHL-leading Tampa Bay Lightning at Bell Centre on Thursday. The Canadiens played with energy and skated with a heavyweight in what turned into a goaltending duel between Tampa's Andrei Vasilevskiy and Montreal's Carey Price.

"That game is really our identity and we have to bring that same energy every game," Canadiens forward Phillip Danault told montrealcanadiens.com. "We beat the best team in the league. It's important for us to believe in our group and it showed that we are capable of playing 60 minutes.

"We played with passion last game. It was fun to get a big win like that in front of our fans. We have to build on that."

The Canadiens haven't won two games in a row since Dec. 19-22. The win Dec. 19 was against the Canucks in Vancouver 7-5. The Canadiens are eight points out of the second wild-card position in the Eastern Conference.

Heading into the game Sunday, it will be interesting to see if Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty has discovered his scoring touch. He scored his first goal in 14 games against the Lightning and his second in 23 games.

This will be the Canadiens' last game before their league-mandated five-day break in the schedule.

It remains to be seen if Price will be available for the game against the Canucks. He missed Saturday's practice with the flu. If he can't play, Anntti Niemi will get his first start in five games. His last game was a 4-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Dec. 23.

The Canadiens, meanwhile, announced 19-year-old defenseman Victor Mete, who won a gold medal with Canada at the IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo, will be rejoining the team Friday. Canada defeated Sweden 3-1 in the gold medal game.

It was thought Mete might be returned to his junior team, the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, for the rest of the season.

Mete played 27 games with the Canadiens and had four assists, but had seen his ice time decline from a high of 22:34 to a low of 6:02 four games before he was loaned to Team Canada on Dec. 11.

"He played really well (with Team Canada), I thought," Canadiens coach Claude Julien said. "He was one of their better defensemen when it came to reliability as far as puck moving, skating. They really like him.

"He's a smart player, makes a good first pass. There's a lot to like about Victor."

The Canucks (16-19-5) started a seven-game road trip with a 3-2 shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday. It was their 11th loss in their past 13 games (2-9-2). They were 14-10-4 on Dec. 5, but their recent struggles have dropped them to 14th place in the Western Conference, 10 points out of the second wild-card position.

The Canucks slide coincides with a fractured foot sustained by forward Bo Horvath, who has missed 13 games.

Rookie forward Brock Boeser, 20, has been a bright spot for the Canucks lately. He scored his 22nd goal of the season against the Leafs and is tied for fourth in goals. He has 11 goals in his past 15 games. He was the NHL's Rookie of the Month in November and December.

The Canucks will be completing their fourth set of 10 back-to-backs this season against the Canadiens. The Canucks are 1-2-1 in the first game after the loss to the Maple Leafs and 3-0-0 in the second game of back-to-backs so far this season.

"We're finding ways to lose and that's tough," Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom told the team's website after the loss to the Maple Leafs. "I need to come up with some more timely saves there. We wanted the win, but it is what it is."

Said Canucks captain Henrik Sedin: "I think we had a few of these (efforts) lately, but when you're not getting the two points, it hurts. This is a game that if we walk away from it with two points, it's a great effort from us, but now it feels like we're losing ground in the standings."

Canucks defenseman Chris Tanev took a puck in the face in the first period that left his teammates picking up some of his teeth off the ice. He did not return, but will travel to Montreal.

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