BROSSARD, Que.— Same schedule, new energy.
As the Montreal Canadiens open their last of five consecutive weeks featuring four games — three of them played in four nights and two of them back-to-back — the outlook feels different.
They’ve got a much firmer hold on the fourth and final playoff spot in the North Division, with an eight-point lead on the Calgary Flames, and they’re two points back of the Winnipeg Jets, who have lost seven of nine and are struggling to score goals.
The Canadiens hadn’t won consecutive games since March, and they hadn’t won a single game when trailing by two goals all season, but they were able to beat the Jets and the Ottawa Senators this past weekend by doing exactly that.
They’re feeling good about themselves coming into Monday’s game against a Toronto Maple Leafs team that’s won five straight games.
“I think that when you win a couple in a row, you start feeling good about your game and the confidence is a lot more there,” said Montreal forward Josh Anderson on Monday.
“I thought that we showed a lot of character in those last two wins, but we’ve got to carry that over tonight and have a big game and a huge start.”
With six games remaining in their season, that’s the template the Canadiens are looking to adhere to. The post-season is within view and the onus is on establishing a game that can help get them through it.
“Right now, with these many games left, we’re taking every game like a playoff game,” said Anderson.
“You have to. These points are so crucial, and we’re looking up in the standings to move a spot. So, we’re going to treat tonight like a playoff game and be physical and hard and mean. We have to.
"They’ve got some really good players over there and some stars who know how to put the puck in the back of the net, so we’ve got to be sharp in all aspects of our game and be ready to go right from the puck drop.”
It's a challenge the Canadiens will have to be able to meet without Carey Price, who suffered a concussion on April 19 and hasn’t been back on the ice since.
The good news is, Price is expected to return to the ice on Tuesday and, provided he continues to progress well, he should be back in games prior to the end of the regular season on May 12.
Brendan Gallagher, who suffered a fractured thumb on April 5, won’t be. Though Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme said on Monday that he expects the 28-year-old winger to be ready for playoffs, if the Canadiens get there.
Ducharme also said that Shea Weber (upper-body injury), Paul Byron (lower-body injury) and Tomas Tatar (lower-body injury) are all day-to-day, while Jonathan Drouin remains on leave for personal reasons.
Meanwhile, the Leafs are rolling without Zach Hyman, who went down with a knee injury on April 18, as Auston Matthews leads the NHL with 38 goals in 47 games.
He has scored in three of five games against Montreal and he’ll be a focal point — he always is — over three games this week to wrap up the season series between both teams.
“With Matthews, he’s grown a lot and you’ve seen what he’s capable of doing this year,” said Anderson.
“It seems like he scores every game, so you’ve got to always know where he is on the ice because it seems like (forward Mitch) Marner usually likes to find him and he’s pretty good at that. And Matthews finding that open ice, too. We’ve got to have our heads on a swivel and know where those guys are.”
It will be Anderson and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, centred by Phillip Danault, in that particular matchup. The Canadiens are also keeping their other three lines and all three defence pairings intact from what they were over the weekend.
Jake Allen, who’s 5-4-0 with a .913 save percentage over his career against the Maple Leafs, will start his 25th game for them this season. He’ll face Jack Campbell, who’s won two of three games against the Canadiens and 15 of 18 total starts this season.