The Montreal Canadiens need at least point in their final game in order to stay alive for the second seed in the Atlantic Division.
Fortunately, they’ll be facing a New York Rangers team Saturday night that has nothing to play for in its season finale – and has had little success in Montreal over the past six years.
Montreal (45-28-8) is trying to catch Tampa Bay for the No. 2 spot in the division after the Lightning won Friday night to move one point ahead.
If the Canadiens earn one point against New York, Tampa Bay must do the same in its finale Sunday at Washington to earn home-ice advantage in a first-round playoff matchup with Montreal.
A regulation win for Montreal puts it one point ahead of the Lightning, who then must beat the Capitals to secure second place.
A 2-0 home loss to the New York Islanders on Thursday could ultimately lead to the Canadiens losing home-ice advantage, as they were outshot 30-19 in a listless performance that cost the club control of its own destiny.
”You want home ice, you want to go into the playoffs feeling good about your game, and we’ve got Saturday night to do that,” captain Brian Gionta said.
The Canadiens have totaled two goals in going 0-1-1 in their last two contests after scoring 12 in winning the previous two. Montreal had won 10 of 12 prior to the skid.
"It’s true that we only have one more game to get set for the playoffs, but there’s no reason to panic. We’ve been playing well recently. Tonight we played a bad game but these things happen on occasion," center Danny Briere told the Canadiens’ official website. "… We’re going to need some help from other teams. All we can do is to win against the Rangers on Saturday. Finishing the year with 100 points is a nice objective to shoot for."
Montreal won’t have second-line forward Alex Galchenyuk to help it achieve that goal, as he appeared to injure his right knee in Wednesday’s 3-2 overtime loss in Chicago and will miss the first round of the playoffs.
Recent history suggests Montreal has a good chance to pick up a victory Saturday. The Canadiens are 10-1-1 in the last 12 meetings with New York at the Bell Centre, and they’ve shut out the Rangers five times in the past eight of those. New York has managed four goals in that eight-game stretch.
The Rangers, however, won 1-0 in the only meeting at Montreal this season Nov. 16, and backup Cam Talbot, who made 22 saves in that game for his first career shutout, will start this one to give Henrik Lundqvist a rest before the playoffs.
That victory ended New York’s four-game overall skid in the series.
The Rangers will also hold out defensemen Ryan McDonagh (shoulder) and Dan Girardi along with forward Martin St. Louis.
New York (45-31-5) locked up the two seed in the Metropolitan Division with a 2-1 win over Buffalo and Philadelphia’s loss later Thursday. The Rangers’ focus Saturday will be on avoiding injury and keeping players fresh, though they’d surely like a better effort to close out the regular season after a lackluster showing against the league-worst Sabres.
"Obviously the focus doesn’t change in the playoffs, the road or at home, but the experience changes," Lundqvist told the team’s official website of gaining home ice after he made 23 saves. "To play at home is just a great feeling, and to feel the atmosphere and the support, you get goose bumps. Obviously you want to play as many games as possible at home."
That’s what the Canadiens want, and they’re expected to have Carey Price in net to help them try to achieve it. Price is 6-1-1 with a 1.33 goals-against average and four shutouts in nine career home games against New York.