The clock is ticking on the respective seasons of the Montreal Canadiens and the Buffalo Sabres, and there’s precious little time to spare.
The Canadiens (31-31-9, 71 points) and Sabres (30-31-8, 68 points) will look to provide a jolt to their flickering postseason aspirations at the other’s expense on Thursday when the Atlantic Division rivals meet in Montreal.
The sputtering Canadiens haven’t helped themselves after dropping three in a row and 10 of their past 14 games (4-8-2). Montreal resides 10 points in back of Toronto for third place in the division as well as 10 in back of Carolina and Columbus for the Eastern Conference wild-card spots.
A disastrous four-goal second period was to blame in the Canadiens’ latest loss, a 4-2 setback to visiting Nashville on Tuesday.
“Just as professionals, you’ve got to be better than that,” Montreal alternate captain Brendan Gallagher said. “It was extremely disappointing, obviously. We felt like we left our goaltender out to dry. You have a second period like that, it costs you the game.”
Artturi Lehkonen and Lukas Vejdemo scored in the third period to halve the deficit for the Canadiens. Vejdemo’s goal was his first in the NHL, however the 24-year-old Swede promptly was reassigned to Laval of the American Hockey League after the game.
Like Montreal, Buffalo has hit some sour notes of late as a recent six-game skid dropped it under the NHL’s version of .500. The Sabres got back on their feet with a 3-2 shootout win over Washington on Monday.
Linus Ullmark made 33 saves in his return from a 17-game absence with a lower-body injury. The 26-year-old also thwarted six shots in the seven-round shootout.
“You want to be with the team, you want to be in the mix, you want to be there and do what you do best,” Ullmark said. “Obviously you can’t buy the feeling of winning, so it was great to get the first win here.”
Captain Jack Eichel snapped a career-worst seven-game scoring drought and the club’s 0-for-17 stretch on the power play by converting from the left circle early in the second period. The goal extended Eichel’s career-best total to 36 while the 78th point has him four shy of his personal high, set last season.
“We’re continuing to work on our game, we’re continuing to add value to the process which is what we want to do here and Jack, of course, is at the lead of that,” Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said. “Just looked a lot more comfortable (Monday) and I think he’s let go of some of that pressure that he was feeling and he’s sharing it with the team and as a result just a really strong game from him.”
Eichel looks to heat up again when he faces the Canadiens, against whom he scored two goals and set up two others in Buffalo’s 5-4 overtime victory on Oct. 9. The 23-year-old Eichel, who set up Marcus Johansson’s overtime winner in that contest, also tallied in the Sabres’ 3-1 setback to the Canadiens on Jan. 30.
Johansson has recorded one goal and two assists during his current three-game point streak. The 29-year-old has those same statistics during the first two contests of the season series.
–Field Level Media