The Montreal Canadiens were mired in their longest losing streak of the season when they arrived in Tampa last month.
The Eastern Conference leaders are playing much better as they make their final visit of 2012-13.
Montreal will try to earn points for the 13th time in 14 games on Saturday night when the slumping Lightning look to avoid their first four-game home losing streak in three seasons.
Starting with a 4-3 shootout win over Tampa Bay (10-13-1) on Feb. 12 that ended their 0-2-1 stretch, the Canadiens (15-5-4) have gone 9-1-3 to move atop the Northeast Division and two points ahead of second-place Pittsburgh in the East.
Montreal’s run has truly been a team effort, with different lines carrying the club in each of the first three stops of its five-game trip. David Desharnais, Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher combined for three goals and six points in Sunday’s 4-3 victory over Boston. Michael Ryder (three assists), Brian Gionta and Tomas Plekanec had five points in Tuesday’s 6-3 loss to the New York Islanders and the Brandon Prust-Lars Eller-Alex Galchenyuk line contributed six points in Thursday’s 4-2 win over Carolina.
“We’ve got three lines firing right now, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the fourth line came up big for us in the next game,” Prust told the Canadiens’ official website after matching Eller’s goal and two assists for a career-high three points. “When you have four lines you can roll like this, everybody gets their rest because we know we can rely on each other. That’s the key to our game.”
The Canadiens, whose 7-2-2 start outside Montreal is their best since opening 9-2-0 in 1997-98, are clearly playing with confidence,
The Lightning are not, as they’ve lost seven of nine. They’ve also dropped six of seven against visiting teams after opening 5-0-0 at home.
Tampa Bay is among the NHL’s best with 3.42 goals per game, but the club has found the back of the net just 16 times during a 1-6-0 skid. Steven Stamkos has six of those goals after netting his league-leading 18th in Thursday’s 2-1 home loss to Winnipeg.
“Obviously, you’ve got to produce, but you want to do it when the team is winning. Feels a lot better that way,” he said. “When you’re not winning, then maybe there’s more I can do, we can do as a team.”
Stamkos, three goals shy of 200, has been doing his part with 11 goals and 18 points in 12 games since getting held off the scoresheet on Feb. 12.
Martin St. Louis is also on a nice run, compiling five assists and seven points during a five-game point streak.
The Lightning, though, need more production from Vincent Lecavalier, who has no goals in nine games. However, their captain has 19 points in his last 18 games against Montreal after setting up Sami Salo’s game-tying goal last month that capped off Tampa Bay’s rally from three down in the third.
Defenseman Victor Hedman scored the Lightning’s first two of that period versus Carey Price, who finished with 21 saves and stopped all three tiebreaker attempts.
Anders Lindback turned aside 31 shots for Tampa Bay in that game, but he’ll be watching Saturday’s game from the bench if coach Guy Boucher gives recent call-up Cedrick Desjardins, a former Montreal minor leaguer, his third career start, and first since 2010-11.
Desjardins made 27 saves in his first NHL appearance, a 4-1 Lightning home win over the Canadiens on Dec. 30, 2010.