Canadiens-Maple Leafs Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated April 26, 2013
The Montreal Canadiens are still in contention for the Northeast Division title. Even if they can't secure it, they'll open their first playoff series in two years at home. It could be against the Toronto Maple Leafs, whom they haven't met in the postseason since 1979. Montreal will try to keep pace in the division race Saturday night when the host Maple Leafs try to lock up the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference. The Canadiens (28-14-5) guaranteed they'll play at least one round in Montreal with a 4-2 victory over Winnipeg on Thursday. "It's huge. Home ice is really big in the playoffs," captain Brian Gionta said. Montreal would like to have a better chance for additional rounds to be played on its home ice as it seeks its first division title since 2007-08, which would give it the second seed. The Canadiens and Boston are tied atop the Northeast with 61 points, but the Bruins have a game in hand. If the Canadiens lose in regulation Saturday and Boston picks up one point at Washington, Montreal will be the No. 4 seed. That could set up a first-round matchup with Toronto (26-16-5), a storied rivalry during the Original Six days of the NHL that's been on hiatus. The Maple Leafs need one point to ensure they don't drop to the sixth spot. "Can't wait. We've been away from the city for almost too long,'' said center Nazem Kadri, who set up both of Phil Kessel's goals Thursday as Toronto capped a 2-1-0 trip with a 4-0 victory over Florida. "It was nice to get up here and kind of throw our feet up a little bit and get two points out of it, but I'm ready to go back and handle our business on Saturday.'' The Maple Leafs have been taking care of home ice, winning seven of nine there including a 5-1 victory over Montreal on April 13. Toronto scored four times on its first five shots in that contest en route to ending a three-game home losing streak in the series. That defeat began a 2-5-0 stretch for Montreal and falling behind early has become a disturbing trend. The Canadiens have trailed by at least two in the first period of each of their last five losses. "Based on what happened the last game (April 13), we want to make sure we come out and have a strong start," Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban told the team's official website. Montreal will need to tightly check Kessel, who has nine of his team-best 19 goals in the last nine contests. Kessel has posted team highs of five assists and seven points as Toronto has taken three of four from Montreal this season. Kessel was joined Thursday on a line by Kadri for the first time due to Tyler Bozak getting the night off, but it could be a sign of things to come. "I've always wanted to play with Phil just because he's a world-class player,'' Kadri said. "I want to make myself better by playing with those types of guys. He really opens the ice out there for you." Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty scored his team-leading 15th goal Thursday. He can match a career-high seven-game point streak and set a personal best with goals in four consecutive games Saturday. Pacioretty scored twice in Montreal's first visit to Toronto this season, a 5-2 victory Feb. 27.
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