As the margin for error continues to dwindle, the Montreal Canadiens must find a way to start stringing together some positive results.
Beginning that quest might not be easy Saturday night against the visiting Chicago Blackhawks, who are already in desperation mode and eyeing a fifth straight victory.
Montreal is 6-9-1 since an 8-1-1 stretch from mid-January into February. Fighting for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 11 games remaining, the Canadiens (37-27-7, 81 points) obviously need to rebound from their latest defeat, 2-1 at the New York Islanders on Thursday.
"We need wins, and we need all the points we can get," coach Claude Julien told the Canadiens' official website. "We have to realize that now, we're playing games that are like playoff games, and we're going to have to play the way (the Islanders did Thursday).
"We need to have a bit more concentration. We need to make better decisions."
Some Montreal players also believe the team's collective fight and passion should be elevated.
"We need to be a team playing hard: everyone, all the lines, all D, the goalie ... everyone has to be playing their best every night," Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw said. "Lines are taking nights off, players are taking nights off. We don't have bite."
The Blackhawks (31-30-9, 71 points), Shaw's former team, certainly do at the moment. Though Chicago's push for the playoffs might fall short, they continue to make things interesting. After losing four of five, the Blackhawks have totaled 18 non-shootout goals during a four-game winning streak.
They scored four first-period goals Wednesday at Toronto and led 5-0 late in the second. The Maple Leafs stormed back, but fell short as the Blackhawks held on for a 5-4 victory.
"As we go here, we're getting more comfortable with how we have to play to win," coach Jeremy Colliton told the Blackhawks' official website. "We show we can be a good team."
Third-year winger Brendan Perlini stayed hot with a goal and two assists for Chicago, which is 11-5-1 on the road since Dec. 20. Perlini, who had a hat trick in Monday's 7-1 rout of Arizona, has seven goals and nine of his 19 points in six games this month.
Perlini, acquired by Chicago from Arizona in late November, did not play during the Blackhawks' 3-2 home defeat to the Canadiens on Dec. 9. Corey Crawford made 25 saves for Chicago in that contest, and could be in net after he left Wednesday's game due to the flu.
Crawford has a 1.87 goals-against average during his four-game winning streak. Backup Cam Ward, meanwhile, has a 4.33 GAA in his last five outings.
Montreal star Carey Price, who stopped 36 shots versus New York, made 37 saves at Chicago in December. Antti Niemi last started on March 7 and owns a 4.38 goals-against average in his last four starts, all losses.
Teammate Tomas Tatar scored the game-winner against the Blackhawks at 18:43 of the third this season, but he has just two assists in the last five games overall.
--Field Level Media