LAST 10: New Jersey 7-1-2; Montreal 5-4-1
Season Series: It's the fourth and final matchup between these two Eastern Conference teams. The Devils lost the first but won the next two, including their last meeting, in which they scored four unanswered goals, three in the third period, to overcome a 3-1 Montreal lead for a 5-3 win.
Big Story: One of the League's hottest teams over the past three weeks, New Jersey is now firmly planted in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race. After missing the playoffs for the first time in 15 years last season, the Devils are looking to rebound with another postseason run. The Canadiens have gone 5-1-1 in their last seven games, with goaltender Carey Price collecting two shutouts in that span, but their playoff hopes are still hanging by the thinnest of threads.
Devils: After a three-game losing skid in late January, New Jersey has gone 7-1-1 and hasn't looked back. While the team has shown the occasional offensive outburst, defense has been key in their wins, with the Devils allowing just three total goals in their last three wins.
That stalwart defense can be credited in large part to the improved play of Martin Brodeur, who stopped 29 shots in a 4-1 Tuesday night win in Buffalo, then turned aside 36 shots by Anaheim on Friday and made two more stops in the shootout for a 3-2 win.
Canadiens: A humbling 3-0 home loss to Washington on Feb. 4 had Habs faithful lamenting the death of Montreal's playoff hopes. But the team has rebounded to go 5-1-1 since then, keeping the Canadiens' slim playoff chances alive. A spirited 4-3 shootout loss to Boston on Wednesday handed Montreal's its eighth shootout loss of the season; the most in the League.
Looking to rebound in Buffalo on Friday, the Canadiens came back from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits before taking a 3-2 second-period lead on Chris Campoli's second goal of the season. But Tyler Ennis' third-period tally sent the game to overtime, eventually placing Montreal once again in the dreaded shootout. This time, however, goals from Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais and a perfect performance in net from Price gave Montreal a rare shootout win. The Canadiens now play their next two games in Montreal before playing seven of their next nine games on the road in a stretch that will likely make or break their season.
Who's Hot:Zach Parise has come alive for the Devils with 11 points in his last 10 games. But the real offensive star for the Devils has been Ilya Kovalchuk, who has 17 points in his last nine games. … With five goals in his last five games, Pacioretty has been pacing the Montreal offense, as has David Desharnais, who has seven points in his current five-game point streak.
Injury Report:Ryan Carter (finger), Henrik Tallinder (blood clot), Travis Zajac (Achilles), and Adam Larsson (bruised lower back) are all on Devils IR. … While Travis Moen is questionable for the Canadiens on Sunday, Brian Gionta (bicep surgery), Petteri Nokelainen (leg), Andrei Markov (knee), and Mike Blunden (knee) are all on IR.
Stat Pack: With a League-worst 3-8 shootout record, the Canadiens will look to avoid a shootout with New Jersey, which is are a League-best 10-3 in the tiebreaker. But a closely-contested game doesn't bode well for Montreal, regardless of how much extra time is required. The Canadiens have a .321 win percentage in one-goal games this season, ahead of only the Carolina Hurricanes. The Devils, on the other hand, are the picture of clutch play in close games, with a League-best .692 win percentage in one-goal games.
Puck Drop: Brodeur is expected to start against Montreal, the team he grew up watching -- and a club he has dominated throughout his career. His 1.76 goals against average against Montreal entering the season is by far his best against any team and his 42 wins and nine shutouts against Montreal are his most against any non-Atlantic-Division team.