Heading into their meeting Friday night in New York, the Rangers sit three points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference chase, with a game in hand. The Canadians are right behind them.
However, the Rangers and Canadiens currently tell a tale of two teams going in opposite directions.
The Rangers, who are coming off a 3-2 road win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night, are on a 5-1-1 run over their last seven games that has helped them rebound from a difficult opening month.
On the other side of the equation, the Canadiens are in an absolute nosedive. The Habs, who dropped a 3-2 home game to the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday, have just one win in their last 10 games (1-6-3), a slump that has sent them plummeting down the standings.
Rangers coach David Quinn wasn't singing the praises of his team after beating Columbus, save for goaltender Alexandar Georgiev, who made 45 saves while his club was outplayed by a wide margin.
"We didn't play with any pace or any physicality. I was really surprised how slow we were," Quinn said. "Give them credit, they played with an edge, and they played with pace. I didn't think we had that one in us the way things are going. Thank god for Georgie.
"Our D-zone coverage was a major, major problem. We were not committed to playing defense or committed to supporting each other coming out of our end. That hasn't happened in a while. If we're going to have any success, we've got to be committed to playing defense."
The Canadiens didn't help their cause with their defensive play to start against the Avalanche. With 20-year-old goaltender Cayden Primeau -- a seventh-round draft pick in 2017 -- making his NHL debut, Montreal trailed 3-0 before the midway point.
The damage was done, even if the Canadiens pushed hard enough to make it a close game.
"We should have started it like that," said Nick Cousins, who scored early in the third to cut the deficit to one. "In the third period, we had the ice tilted. We started to turn it on and got two goals."
"As the game went on, we got better and better," Cousins added. "There are some positives we can take into (New York)."
Montreal will need to make one roster change, after young forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi -- the second-year NHLer who was the third pick in the 2018 draft -- was knocked from Thursday's game after a hit from Nikita Zadorov. Kotkaniemi landed on his head.
"To me, that's a dirty hit," coach Claude Julien said. "I don't know how the league's going to see it, that's up to them to look at it, but when I talked to our upper management, they seemed to think it's definitely a suspendible move on his part."
The Canadiens do have one more bit of extra motivation as they arrive in the Big Apple. The Rangers won the last meeting, 6-5 at Montreal on Nov. 23 after the Canadiens held a 4-0 lead.
--Field Level Media