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NHL Preview from The Sports Network
Tuesday, April 1st (All times Eastern)
Montreal Canadiens (43-26-7) at Tampa Bay Lightning (41-25-9), 7:30 p.m.
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens will likely be first-round playoff opponents, but the Atlantic Division clubs meet one last time in the regular season Tuesday at Tampa Bay Times Forum.
The Canadiens and Lightning have yet to clinch playoff spots, but they hold sizable leads over the competition for the second and third automatic postseason bids in the Atlantic.
Boston has already clinched the division and Montreal enters Tuesday two points ahead of the Lightning for second place. Tampa, however, does hold a game in hand over the Habs. Toronto, meanwhile, is 11 points behind the Bolts in fourth place with six games remaining.
The second and third-place teams from each division will face each other in the first round of the playoffs, with the top finisher getting home-ice advantage.
Judging by the meetings so far in 2013-14, a postseason series between the Habs and Lightning could be tightly contested. All three encounters this season have been decided after regulation, with Tampa winning two of those contests.
After the clubs split a pair of shootout decisions to begin the season series, the Lightning claimed a 2-1 overtime win in Montreal on Feb. 1. Nate Thompson scored the OT game-winner for Tampa, which had lost four straight in this series heading into the 2013-14 campaign.
Montreal has claimed three straight and four of the last six encounters in Tampa.
The Canadiens head into Tuesday's showdown on a hot streak, having won five straight and eight of their last nine games. The club also has taken the first two tests of a four-game road trip to extend its road winning streak to five games and give the Habs a 22-14-2 record as the guest this season.
Montreal has matched its longest winning streak of the season with five wins, but the franchise hasn't won six in a row since March 6-16, 2010.
The Canadiens are coming off Saturday's 4-1 triumph over the Florida Panthers. Max Pacioretty scored twice to back 36 saves from Carey Price, as the Habs cruised to the victory.
Pacioretty has a career-high 35 goals on the season and he snapped a lengthy scoring drought in the series with Florida thanks to his two-goal performance. The 25-year-old American has five goals over his last five trips to the ice.
"It's a good feeling. I haven't been able to score against this team so it's nice to come into this building a put a few on the board," Pacioretty said about breaking his 16-game scoring drought against the Panthers.
Thomas Vanek and David Desharnais added a goal and one assist apiece for the Canadiens.
Price will get the start in net tonight and is 10-6-4 with a 2.34 goals against average and .918 save percentage in 20 career games against the Lightning.
Ben Bishop expects to start for Tampa Bay. He is 4-1-2 with a 1.56 GAA in eight lifetime games against the Habs and stopped 28-of-29 shots in the victory at Montreal on Feb. 1.
The Lightning had a two-game winning streak snapped in their last game, dropping Sunday's 3-2 road decision in Detroit. The regulation setback was the third loss in five games for Tampa, which also had an 11-game point streak halted. The Bolts were 7-0-4 during the run.
Tampa grabbed a 1-0 lead in Sunday's tilt with the Red Wings, but allowed Detroit to score the game's next three goals. Former Detroit forward Valtteri Filppula scored in the first period for the Lightning and Sami Salo made it a 3-2 game on Tampa's next goal with 4:29 left in the third.
Bishop stopped 27 shots in the loss, falling to 36-12-7 on the season.
"They scored some fluky goals on us tonight," said Bishop. "I thought we played well enough to win, but sometimes those things happen, and their goalie played a really good game."
The Lightning hope to get back on track tonight at the start of a six-game homestand. Tampa is 21-8-6 as the host this season and won't play another test on the road until closing out its regular-season slate on April 13 at Washington.
04/01 10:38:17 ET