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Canadiens try to right ship versus Devils

Few people expected the Montreal Canadiens to make the playoffs this season after they finished with the fourth-fewest points in the NHL in 2017-18. But after a surprising first four months, does a sudden skid mean the Canadiens are regressing at the worst possible time?

Montreal will look to snap out of a funk and steady its suddenly shaky footing in the Eastern Conference playoff race Monday night, when they visit the New Jersey Devils in Newark, N.J.

Both teams were off Sunday after absorbing defeats Saturday, when the Devils fell to host New York Rangers, 5-2 and the visiting Canadiens squandered a three-goal, first-period lead in a 6-3 loss at Toronto.

The loss was the fifth in the last seven games (2-4-1) for the Canadiens and continued to narrow their margin for error in the race for a postseason spot.

With a regulation win Saturday, the Canadiens would have moved within one point of the Maple Leafs in the race for the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. Instead, Montreal will enter Monday's game in sole possession of the first wild card in the East, but just one point ahead of Carolina and Pittsburgh, which are tied for the second wild card.

"It's a 60-minute game and we didn't play 60," Canadiens defenseman Jeff Petry told reporters following the game. "At some point, we have to prove we're a mature team that can find ways to close these games, because there are more of them down the stretch."

The Canadiens have led or been tied in the third period in four of their last five losses. On Saturday, they carried a 3-2 lead into the final period before the Maple Leafs scored four times, including three goals in the last 110 seconds. Two were empty netters.

With Toronto's late barrage, the Canadiens have been outscored 11-1 in the third period of their last five games.

"I thought we froze in the third period," Canadiens head coach Claude Julien told reporters Saturday night. "We had a one-goal lead, but we weren't playing on our toes like we were early in the game, so we have to learn to manage these situations better than we have, especially lately. Third periods have been an issue for us in the last week."

The Devils' focus long ago shifted to the long-term. New Jersey, mired in last place in the Metropolitan Division with 56 points, opened the season with four straight wins but has won two or more consecutive games just four times since then.

Prior to Saturday's game, the Devils continued to build for the future by trading defenseman Ben Lovejoy to Dallas for defenseman Connor Carrick and the Stars' third-round pick in 2019. It was the third trade made by New Jersey in the last month.

The deal shortly before an early-afternoon faceoff seemed to stun the Devils, who gave up three first-period goals and never got closer than two goals against the Rangers. But those remaining weren't willing to use Lovejoy's trade as an excuse.

"The guys that are in the lineup have to be ready to play and we've got to do our best to prepare ourselves to play no matter what happens," Devils right winger Kyle Palmieri said afterward. "We didn't do that today. It showed."

--Field Level Media

Updated February 24, 2019

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