While the Dallas Stars desperately try to stay in the crowded Western Conference playoff chase, the Montreal Canadiens' chances are looking slimmer and slimmer in the East.
Each team is in dire need of two points Tuesday night when the Stars make a rare visit to Montreal.
Dallas (29-26-4) continues to slide in the standings during a 5-9-3 stretch, leaving the club tied for 10th place in the West - three points out of eighth. The Stars came tantalizingly close to the postseason last year but haven't reached the playoffs since 2008.
The Canadiens (24-26-10) have qualified each of the last four seasons, but that streak is in serious jeopardy with Montreal buried near the bottom of its conference. Toronto and Winnipeg, tied for the final spot, are six points ahead of the Habs, who may not have sent the most positive short-term signal Friday when they shipped defenseman Hal Gill to Nashville.
"We don't have the luxury - and I've said this before - of taking a night off, a period off or a shift off," Montreal defenseman Josh Gorges said after Sunday's 3-1 loss to New Jersey. "We don't have that because every game is maybe the difference of getting in or us going home early."
Max Pacioretty scored for the seventh time in eight games but Montreal still lost its third consecutive home game, with Carey Price having allowed 10 goals in those contests. The team fell to 11-13-8 at the Bell Centre, the worst home record of any club besides NHL-worst Columbus.
Dallas has dropped six of eight on the road, including three straight. After a 2-1 overtime loss Saturday at Phoenix, the Stars returned home and fell 3-2 to Nashville - an especially painful one-goal defeat after Shea Weber scored for the Predators in the final second of the first period.
"As hard as it is to swallow, you have to keep doing the little things right," coach Glen Gulutzan said. "The moment you veer away and start losing confidence, then you're in trouble. We're doing the little things right, we're not getting the result."
Kari Lehtonen is doing all he can to help the Stars, and Gulutzan said he plans to give his goalie a 10th consecutive start Tuesday. He has allowed three goals or fewer in each of the last seven, but is 2-3-2 in that stretch.
Dallas' sputtering offense, which has scored two goals or fewer in 14 of 17 games, is expected to be without injured wing Jamie Benn for a third straight contest. A pair of former Canadiens have contributed lately, however, as Michael Ryder has six goals and four assists in 11 February contests and Mike Ribeiro has seven points in his last seven games.
The Habs traded Ribeiro to Dallas in 2006, but he's never played in Montreal as a visitor. He has five points in three meetings with the Canadiens in Dallas, but he was out with an injury during the Stars' lone trip to the Bell Centre in the last five seasons, a 5-3 loss Jan. 14, 2010.
Ryder, who helped Boston win the Stanley Cup last season, will be facing Montreal for the first time since the Bruins eliminated the Habs in seven games in the first round of the playoffs.