By Brett Huston
OTTAWA (AP) -- The Ottawa Senators have almost certainly waited
too long to make a postseason push in the Eastern Conference,
but they've looked like a playoff team over the past two weeks.
If the Montreal Canadiens aren't careful, they might be sitting
home come playoff time, too.
The Canadiens will try to avoid a fourth consecutive loss
Thursday night when they visit Scotiabank Place looking to stay
perfect this season against the surging Senators.
Montreal (36-25-9) was 16-6-5 through two months but has been a
.500 team since mid-December. The Canadiens have especially
struggled over the past two months, going 9-14-3 to tie for the
fewest points in the East since Jan. 20.
With three losing streaks of at least three games in that
stretch, they fired coach Guy Carbonneau on March 9, but the
losses haven't stopped. General manager Bob Gainey took over for
Carbonneau and guided Montreal to a 4-3 win over Edmonton on
March 10, but the team went 0-1-2 to close a four-game
The finale came Tuesday night with the Canadiens facing the New
York Rangers in a matchup of teams tied for sixth in the East.
Montreal's Andrei Markov scored the tying goal late in the third
period and the game stayed tied through overtime, but Carey
Price couldn't stop any of the three shots he faced in the
shootout, giving the Rangers a critical extra point while
dropping the Canadiens to seventh.
"We had guys who were working hard," center Maxim Lapierre said.
"I know we didn't get the two points, that's not a good thing,
but we did get one big point that keeps us in the race."
The Senators (29-30-10), meanwhile, will be looking for their
seventh victory in eight games on Thursday. They've played
nearly as well as anyone in the league over the past five weeks,
going 12-5-2 since Feb. 7.
Ottawa had its four-game winning streak snapped Thursday in a
5-3 loss at Boston but bounced back with two solid victories.
The visiting Senators topped red-hot Pittsburgh 4-3 in a
shootout on Saturday, then scored three power-play goals - two
from defenseman Brendan Bell - in a 4-2 home win over Buffalo on
"Today we had a lot of power plays and we had a lot of
opportunities to make good plays," said defenseman Filip Kuba,
who assisted on all three goals with the man advantage. "The
puck was just going in for us today."
The victory was Ottawa's fifth straight at home. It hasn't won
six in a row in Canada's capital city since Feb. 8-28, 2007.
The Senators' top line of Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Daniel
Alfredsson has picked it up offensively, combining for 27 points
in its past seven games, but Brian Elliott has really carried
the team. The rookie goaltender is 6-0-0 with a 2.12
goals-against average since March 5.
Elliott has made one start against the Canadiens, and like
Ottawa's other three games against them this season, it ended in
a loss - 5-4 in a shootout at Scotiabank Place on Jan. 17. Both
meetings in Ottawa resulted in Montreal shootout wins.
Heatley has five of the Senators' nine goals against the
Canadiens this season but Spezza and Alfredsson haven't scored.
While Ottawa has a top line it relies on, Montreal isn't sure
where goals are going to come from. Andrei Kostitsyn leads the
team with 23 goals, but he's scored once in his last 11 games.
Kostitsyn has one goal against the Senators this season.