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Humbled Canadiens keep cool while chasing fourth straight win

The Montreal Canadiens finished second overall in the NHL with 50 wins and 110 points last season, but now are facing tough odds just to make the playoffs.


The Montreal Canadiens aren't about to start turning cartwheels just because they've won three games in a row.

After spoiling a spectacular 19-4-3 start to the season with a 5-20-1 run from Dec. 3 to Feb. 3, three measly wins is not enough. And who is to say if their mid-season funk is really over or if their wins over Edmonton, Carolina and Tampa Bay in the past week were a mirage?

"It humbles us when we win," forward Dale Weise said Thursday. "Maybe we would have got more excited about a three-game winning streak before, but we're not out of the water yet by any stretch.

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"We've strung some wins together and we haven't done that in a long time, which is positive, but we're not getting ahead of ourselves."

The Canadiens hope to make it four in a row when they visit the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night, which would match their four-game streak of Nov. 20-27. That was the last time they won as many as two in a row.

The Canadiens (27-24-4) finished second overall in the National Hockey League with 50 wins and 110 points last season, but now are facing tough odds just to make the playoffs.

As of Thursday, their 58 points left them four behind Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay, who were tied for third place in the Atlantic Division, each with two games in hand.

Last season it took 97 points to get the last Eastern Conference playoff spot. To top that, they would need to win 20 of their remaining 27 games, or get the equivalent in a combination of wins and overtime points.

"We're trying not to worry about that," forward Brendan Gallagher said. "We try to go into each game with the same mindset. Points are so important for us with the position we're in that we can't afford to feel comfortable about what we've done."

But good things have happened lately for them. During their 26-game struggle, they scored more than two goals in a game only six times. In the plast three games, they've scored 11. Tomas Plekanec has led the way with three goals and four assists.

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And goalie Ben Scrivens has been hot, allowing only four goals on 98 shots in the three wins. With no sign that star goalie Carey Price will return soon from a lower body injury suffered in late November, that has been a relief.

Coach Michel Therrien is still trying to boost the attack by moving rookie Sven Andrighetto onto a top line with the struggling Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais and moving Weise back to the fourth unit. Desharnais has a goal and two assists in the past 14 games, while Pacioretty has two points in the past nine.

The Canadiens remain baffled by the slump. In several of those games, they outplayed and outshot opponents but ended up losing.

"I never saw a team play so well and come out with so few points," centre Lars Eller said. "There were games where we didn't play well and didn't deserve to win, but it didn't reflect how well we were playing at time.

"Hopefully it all evens out this last third of the season."

The Canadiens are missing injured defencemen Jeff Petry and Nathan Beaulieu, so Greg Pateryn will get a rare start. Therrien said Petry will miss the three-game trip to Buffalo, Arizona and Colorado, while Beaulieu is considered day-to-day.

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Scrivens will get a fourth successive start.

Speedy winger Paul Byron is expected to return after missing eight games.

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