Now officially in the postseason, the Montreal Canadiens’ next task is trying to grab home ice for the first round.
After missing an opportunity to help themselves, the Canadiens seek to get back on track with a third consecutive win over the Ottawa Senators on Friday night.
Montreal (43-27-7) zoomed toward its sixth playoff berth in seven seasons by winning a season high-tying five in a row before losing to Tampa Bay 3-1 Tuesday. It was able to secure a postseason berth that night, however, thanks to losses from New Jersey and Washington.
"We’re disappointed with our game today, but big picture, we’ve got to be happy with (the playoff berth)," goaltender Carey Price said.
Montreal finished 1-1-2 in the season series with the Lightning, and losing the head-to-head tiebreaker could hurt the Canadiens’ chances of taking home ice for a likely opening-round series against Tampa Bay.
"We’ll see what the matchups are in a couple of weeks, but right now, we want to finish this season strong," captain Brian Gionta said. "We want to find our game heading into the playoffs. We had a pretty good run the last five or six games. We need to look ahead and find what works for us."
What’s worked in the past two matchups against Ottawa is Montreal’s offense. The Canadiens, though, have needed all the goals they could muster to edge the rival Senators 5-4 in overtime in each of those games.
They scored three times in the final 3 1/2 minutes of regulation in the most recent matchup March 15 in Montreal with David Desharnais providing the tying goal just before the buzzer. Francis Bouillon’s only goal this season gave Montreal the win.
The Canadiens snapped a six-game skid in Ottawa – including two defeats in last year’s first-round playoff loss – with the first of those victories Jan. 16. Tomas Plekanec’s second goal of the game tied the score with 8:58 left in regulation and P.K. Subban scored in the extra frame.
The Senators (32-30-14) have scored four goals in each of their four games against Montreal this season with Price starting in all of them. The Canadiens’ No. 1 goaltender will take a seat in this game with Peter Budaj expected to make his first start since a 2-1 shootout win in Boston on March 24, which snapped a four-game personal skid.
Budaj is 0-3-0 with a 5.88 goals-against average in three games against Ottawa, including two in last year’s postseason.
Craig Anderson is expected to be in net for the Senators, who are trying to give a boost to their faint playoff hopes. They won the first three of a five-game homestand before a 2-1 loss to the New York Islanders on Wednesday.
Ottawa outshot the Islanders 36-27 and 16-7 in the third period but got only a power-play goal from Milan Michalek in the final frame. The Senators gave up two goals while short-handed, including the tiebreaking one with 10:29 remaining.
"We still have games to play. We have to get back on it and get rolling again," forward Chris Neil said. "That’s been our motto for the past couple of years. We never give up. We just have to go out and try to win hockey games."
Anderson was charged with all five goals against Montreal on Jan. 16 after going 6-2-0 with a 1.88 GAA in his previous eight matchups, including the playoffs.