Canadiens take aim at struggling Sabres, cling to playoff spot
With two weeks remaining in the NHL's regular season, the surprising Montreal Canadiens barely cling to a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but a late-season run of home games may help out.
Perhaps beating the Buffalo Sabres would help to get to the playoffs for the first time in two years, too.
Montreal (39-28-7) hosts Buffalo on Saturday. The match will be the final one in the four-game season series, and due to a scheduling quirk, the first since the two clubs met the last time during Thanksgiving week.
Beating the struggling Sabres would be a start for the Canadiens, who hang on to the final wild card by just one point over the Columbus Blue Jackets, 85-84.
Montreal trails Carolina for the first wild card by two points. However, the upstart Hurricanes do have a game in hand to work with.
The Philadelphia Flyers (80 points) and Florida Panthers (78) are standings lurkers, but it would be a tall order, requiring perhaps a total collapse from one or two of the three teams above them and for the Flyers or Panthers to run out, for either squad to secure a wild card.
Montreal hosts four more games at Bell Center, and the Canadiens, who are 21-12-4 at home, will face the quixotic Panthers, Presidents' Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning and rival Toronto Maple Leafs to round out their home schedule.
Goaltender Carey Price gave the Canadiens the lift they needed to hop back in playing position on Thursday, twirling his 44th career shutout by saving 28 shots in a 4-0 win over the New York Islanders in Montreal.
"He's always the No. 1 guy that can turn the momentum of the game and give the boys confidence. Even when we break down a little bit he's always there, and that's huge," forward Max Domi said of Price, who is now two shutouts behind Ken Dryden for third all-time in franchise history.
Montreal is 0-1-2 against the Sabres, having faced them back when Buffalo was playing some of the best hockey in the league.
However, the second half of the season has been a complete disaster for the Buffalo as expectations have come up short, fueling speculation of coaching or personnel changes.
The Sabres (31-33-9) have won just three times in their last 17 games (3-12-2) and dropped a 4-2 decision on Wednesday at home to Toronto.
Buffalo mustered just 22 shots against Maple Leafs backup goalie Garret Sparks, getting tallies from Casey Mittelstadt and Alexander Nylander.
Meanwhile, the Sabres allowed 45 shots by Toronto against their goalie Carter Hutton, including 38 over the first two periods.
"We knew the magnitude of this game, the rivalry," said Buffalo coach Phil Housley, whose club has not won consecutive games since early December. "We turned the puck over and then it came right back after us and we were chasing -- chasing a lot, killing a cycle. Then when we did have the puck, we didn't manage it very well."
--Field Level Media
Updated March 22, 2019