The old rivals are back for one last meeting this season, playing out the rubber match after splitting the season series two wins apiece.
The last meeting, that is, unless they meet in the postseason in a few weeks’ time.
The struggling Toronto Maple Leafs play host to the Montreal Canadiens at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night, as they try to bump a four regulation losses in five games streak that has suddenly threatened their playoff hopes.
The good news is they could be buoyed by the return of centre David Bolland after 56 games out of the lineup.
Coach Randy Carlyle called his return “probable,” and Carter Ashton was sent to the Toronto Marlies to open a spot for Bolland to come off long-term injured reserve for the first time since early November when a tendon in his ankle was sliced by a skate.
If he plays, Bolland will be on a third line with Mason Raymond and David Clarkson.
“I don’t know if I’ll limit his minutes,” Carlyle said. “We’ll see how the game goes… With the addition of a Bolland, it gives you a little bit more depth throughout your lineup. A veteran guy.”
“His experience speaks for itself obviously,” teammate James van Riemsdyk added.
The Habs may well have a change at centre of their own, too, with youngster Alex Galchenyuk expected to shift over to the middle and Lars Eller bumped to the fourth line after they practised in that configuration.
Canadiens coach Michel Therrien wasn’t tipping his hand, however.
“Who says he’s going to play centre?” he asked.
The game’s biggest injury absence will continue to be that of Leafs netminder Jonathan Bernier, who remains out with a groin strain and isn’t likely to play in Toronto’s back-to-back games this weekend.
James Reimer, who had a tough start against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the other team the Leafs are chasing in the Atlantic Division, on Wednesday in a 5-3 loss, is expected to fill in.
There are some parallels between the two teams in goal. Montreal is just coming out of a tough post-Olympics stretch without starter Carey Price where the Canadiens didn’t win in regulation in eight in a row.
Since Price’s return, however, they’re 3-1-0 and have built a three-point lead over the sagging Leafs for third in the division.
A regulation loss on Saturday for Toronto would likely mean the Leafs are going to be left playing for a wild card spot, as they’d trail both Tampa and Montreal by five points with only 10 games to play.
That merely adds more intrigue to a matchup that is generally heated in any circumstances.
“We all understand it’s a big game for both teams,” Therrien said. “It’s so tight.”
“Every point is crucial at this point in the year,” van Riemsdyk said. “We’re looking to clinch a spot so we’ve got some work to do.”
Leafs projected lineup
JVR – Bozak – Kessel
Lupul – Kadri – Kulemin
Raymond – Bolland – Clarkson
Bodie – McClement – Orr
Gunnarsson – Phaneuf
Gleason – Rielly
Gardiner – Franson
Canadiens projected lineup
Pacioretty – Desharnais - Vanek
Brière – Plekanec - Gallagher
Bourque – Galchenyuk - Gionta
Moen – Eller – Weise
Markov – Emelin
Bouillon – Subban
Murray – Weaver