By Matt Becker
Stats Senior Writer
Ottawa (34-34-10) at Montreal (41-27-10), 7:30 p.m. EDT
MONTREAL (AP) — When things were looking bleak for the Montreal
Canadiens two weeks ago, veteran Alex Kovalev raised his play to
carry the team and restore their confidence.
Kovalev looks to help the Canadiens continue their surge towards
the playoffs and win their fourth straight game Monday night
against the Ottawa Senators.
With the playoffs a week away, seventh-place Montreal (41-27-10)
has a three-point lead over the eighth-place New York Rangers
and is within three points of fourth in the Eastern Conference.
The Canadiens are coming off a 6-2 victory over Toronto on
Saturday and have been tough to slow down lately.
Montreal is outscoring its opponents 15-4 during a three-game
winning streak and is 5-0-1 since March 24. The Canadiens’ power
play has been instrumental in the last six games, going
13-for-35 (37.1 percent).
“We’re trying to grab as many points as we can and move up the
standings,” Montreal forward Chris Higgins. “The confidence in
the room is back – that’s pretty obvious to tell. I think we’ve
got four games left here and if we continue to play the way
we’ve been playing the last couple games, then we’ll have the
right mind-set for the playoffs.”
While the Canadiens are on the verge of clinching a playoff
berth, things didn’t look as promising a few weeks ago.
On March 21, Montreal suffered a 5-2 loss to the Maple Leafs to
drop its fifth straight (0-3-2) and fall to eighth in the East.
The Canadiens broke out of their funk with a 6-3 win over
Atlanta on March 24 behind two goals and an assist from Kovalev.
Kovalev had a goal and three assists Saturday and has been
red-hot lately. The 16-year veteran has seven goals and eight
assists in Montreal’s last six games after having two goals and
no assists in his previous eight.
“I’m probably playing as good as I have been all year,” Kovalev
said. “Like I’ve said many times, sometimes you try to do too
much on your own instead of using your partners. Right now I
kind of know more about the players that I’m playing with.”
Goaltender Jaroslav Halak could make his third consecutive start
Monday in place of Carey Price, who has the flu.
Halak made 34 saves Saturday after turning aside 26 shots in
Thursday’s 5-1 win over the New York Islanders. He is 2-1-0 with
a 2.98 goals-against average in three games versus the Senators
(34-34-10) this season.
The Canadiens are 4-1-0 against Ottawa with their only loss
coming during their slump three weeks ago.
The Senators are going to miss the playoffs for the first time
since 1995-96, but are still trying to have an impact on the
Ottawa is coming off Saturday’s 4-3 shootout victory over
Philadelphia, one of the teams in the mix for the fourth spot in
Jason Spezza scored his 31st goal 3:47 into the third period to
tie the score at 3 and Mike Fisher scored the winner in the
fifth round of the shootout.
“It’s always nice to score like that,” Fisher said. “We didn’t
quit. We got behind and Spezza got a nice one to get back in it
and that’s a pretty good team.”
Alex Auld made 31 saves against the Flyers, winning for the
second time in his last six starts. He is 0-2-1 with a 3.00 GAA
versus Montreal this season.