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The Globe and Mail

Leafs-Habs rivalry resumes with much on the line

Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer makes a save in the first period of their NHL hockey game against the Boston Bruins in Boston, Massachusetts February 15, 2011.


The exigencies of their customary rivalry notwithstanding, the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs are actually playing for significant stakes on Thursday night.

The streaking Leafs are salivating at the prospect of closing in on the Carolina Hurricanes, who currently occupy the eighth and final playoff slot in the Eastern Conference.

And the playoffs remain the goal for Toronto.

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"If we win tonight, we're four points out with 21 games to play," said Toronto winger Clarke McArthur. "If we want to do anything, these are the kinds of games we have to have."

And the Habs could extend their lead over the seventh-seeded New York Rangers to five points as they continue to try and reel in division-leading Boston.

But they'll try and win their third game of the season at home against the Leafs without the goaltender who has yet to allow a Toronto goal in the Bell Centre this year.

Carey Price will sit in favour of backup Alex Auld, breaking a string of six straight starts.

"Alex has performed well for us lately, and he deserves a chance," said Montreal coach Jacques Martin.

Auld is no pushover - he has a .926 save percentage and 2.26 goals-against average this season - and the Habs are unbeaten in regulation in his last five starts.

But his last loss came in Toronto against the Leafs on Dec. 11, the 30-year-old will be looking to avenge that result.

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Thought the Habs only made it back from the West Coast late Wednesday, Toronto coach Ron Wilson said "we aren't taking Montreal lightly," and that in any case, travel is harder on "brawny, 220 pound guys" than on smaller clubs like the Canadiens.

"They only have a couple of those guys," he said, jokingly added that "maybe (ponderous six-foot-seven-inch, 250 pound defenceman and former Leaf) Hal Gill will be slower tonight."

The Leafs are on a 7-2-2 tear, with one of those losses, a 3-0 shutout, coming 12 days ago in Montreal.

The Canadiens, meanwhile, are still trying to arrest a 2-4-2 slide and their recent propensity to drop points against teams Having eked out a rare road win against Vancouver, the NHL's top team, it's an open question whether the Habs will be able to muster their best effort just 48 hours later.

At the same time, there's a sense in the Montreal room that the Vancouver game, which followed ugly losses in Edmonton and Calgary, is a watershed.

"It feels like that was the start, now we have to keep it up," said forward Travis Moen.

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The ideal outcome for the Leafs would be to beat Montreal and for the Habs to win at home against Carolina on Saturday.

James Reimer, 4-0-2 in his last six starts, gets the call in goal for Toronto.

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About the Author
National Correspondent

Sean Gordon joined the Globe's Quebec bureau in 2008 and covers the Canadiens, Alouettes and Impact, as well as Quebec's contingent of Olympic athletes. More

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