GAME: Montreal Canadiens (39-26-6-3) at New Jersey Devils (38-22-11-2).
TIME: Friday, 7:30 p.m. EST.
The Montreal Canadiens and the New Jersey Devils are battling for sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
A strong performance by either team in this home-and-home series could lead to a higher seeding.
The Canadiens will look to extend their point streak to seven games when they face the Devils at Continental Airlines Arena.
While New Jersey and Montreal are virtual locks to reach the playoffs, the final position for both will be determined over the last three weeks of the season. Montreal will likely finish no lower than seventh, but is just two points behind sixth-place New Jersey. The Devils are still hoping to catch Philadelphia for the Atlantic Division lead.
The Canadiens have been one of the league's hottest teams, losing once in regulation in the last 12 games (10-1-0-1) while gaining points in six straight (5-0-0-1).
After completing a road trip with three straight wins, Montreal returned home and recorded five of a possible six points against Florida, Toronto and Colorado.
Captain Saku Koivu's power-play goal 4:18 into the third period snapped a tie, and Jose Theodore stopped 29 shots in Montreal's 4-2 victory over the Avalanche on Tuesday.
"It was another big test for our team," Koivu said. "We've gained some confidence by playing teams that are above us and we've been successful. We're taking small steps but we're gaining some ground and some confidence."
All-Star defenseman Sheldon Souray expects to return to the Canadiens' lineup either Friday or Saturday when the teams meet at the Bell Centre. Souray, having the best season of his career with 15 goals and 35 points, has been out since Feb. 10 with a knee injury.
"I've worked to get back into shape, but it's the coach's decision on whether I play Friday and how much I play," Souray said. "I want to get back as soon as possible, but with the team playing as well as it has, there's no sense of urgency."
The line of Jeff Friesen, Sergei Brylin and Viktor Kozlov combined for three goals and eight assists Wednesday as the Devils coasted to their second straight victory, 6-1 over Pittsburgh.
Kozlov, acquired from Florida last month, had one goal and three assists in his second game with New Jersey.
"This is a good team. It's easy to click in," Kozlov said. "I got my confidence back a little bit. I felt a little better. For me, every game is important. There are only nine games left until the playoffs. The faster I can get into shape, the more I can bring to this team in the playoffs."
Three regular defensemen were missing from New Jersey's lineup Wednesday - captain Scott Stevens, Brian Rafalski and Colin White. Stevens and Rafalski are out for the rest of the regular season while White has missed the past two games with a neck injury and is day-to-day.
STANDINGS (through March 17): Canadiens - 87 points, 4th place, 6 PB, Northeast Division. Devils - 89 points, 2nd place, 5 PB, Atlantic Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Canadiens - Richard Zednik, 25 goals; Mike Ribeiro, 41 assists and 61 points; Darren Langdon, 135 PIM. Devils - Patrik Elias, 34 goals and 66 points; Scott Gomez, 47 assists; Colin White, 83 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 17): Canadiens - Power play: 18.4 percent (54 for 294), 7th in NHL. Penalty killing: 81.9 percent (230 for 281), 24th. Devils - Power play: 15.2 percent (41 for 269), 20th. Penalty killing: 84.6 percent (203 for 240), 8th.
GOALTENDERS: Canadiens - Theodore (31-24-5, 6 SO, 2.17 GAA); Mathieu Garon (8-5-1, 2.44). Devils - Martin Brodeur (34-23-10, 10, 2.05); Scott Clemmensen (2-1-0, 1, 1.35).
SEASON SERIES: 1-1-0.
LAST MEETING: March 1; Canadiens, 2-1. At Montreal, Jason Ward scored a power-play goal with 24 seconds left in regulation to lift the Canadiens.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Canadiens - 18-15-2-2 on the road; Devils - 20-12-4-1 at home.
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