On Friday, the Canadiens and Maple Leafs had different ways of preparing for Saturday’s regular-season finale in Toronto (7 p.m., CBC, RDS, TSN Radio 690) with the Canadiens holding an optional skate and the Leafs holding a full practice.
Only 10 Canadiens skated Friday: Gabriel Dumont, Colby Armstrong, Ryan White, Jarred Tinordi, Yannick Weber, Peter Budaj, Travis Moen, Michael Blunden, Tomas Kaberle and Davis Drewiske. Meanwhile, the only Leaf who didn’t take part in practice was Tyler Bozak.
“It’s an opportunity to get two points,” Leafs coach Randy Carlyle told reporters in Toronto about his team’s preparations for Saturday’s game.
The Canadiens still have a shot at the Northeast Division title despite winning only twice in their last seven games. The possibility exists because the Boston Bruins have also struggled with a 2-4-1 record in their last seven games.
Montreal and Boston are tied with 61 points and the Bruins are ranked first because they have played one fewer game. If the Canadiens beat the Leafs, the pressure would be on the Bruins to take at least three points in their two remaining games, Saturday in Washington and Sunday against the Ottawa Senators. If the Canadiens and Bruins finish in a tie, the advantage goes to Montreal on the basis of more regulation and overtime wins.
As things stood after the Canadiens’ 4-2 win over Winnipeg on Thursday, Toronto and Montreal were slated to begin the playoffs Tuesday night at the Bell Centre. But if Montreal wins Saturday, that leaves the door open for Ottawa to grab fifth place in the Eastern Conference with wins Saturday over Philadelphia and Sunday in Boston.
Toronto leads the season series with the Canadiens 3-1 and two of those Toronto wins were by lopsided margins.
Two players to keep an eye on Saturday could be Canadiens rookie Brendan Gallagher and the Leafs’ Nazem Kadri.
Wrote Tim Wharnsby Friday on the Hockey Night in Canada website: “(Gallagher’s) managed to play his super-pest type of role that he did in junior against much bigger opponents in the NHL. Don’t let that choirboy face fool you. He chirps opponents. He gets under their skin.”
Wharnsby added that Gallagher has developed an on-ice feud with Kadri, including this quote he says Gallagher told two reporters after the last Leafs-Habs game two weeks ago: “I don’t mind getting hit when I have the puck. I’m willing to take shots and do all the stuff in front of the net. But if it’s dirty, I don’t like it. He sits on the bench yapping his mouth, he gets on the ice and all of a sudden he’s scared. I don’t know what to say about that. There’s a lot of guys in this league I respect. I don’t know if he’s one of them.”
(Photo by John Woods/The Canadian Press)