Canadiens look to hang on to playoff position

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By Matt Becker

Stats Senior Writer

Ottawa (34-34-10) at Montreal (41-27-10), 7:30 p.m. EDT

MONTREAL (AP) -- When things were looking bleak for the Montreal

Canadiens two weeks ago, veteran Alex Kovalev raised his play to

carry the team and restore their confidence.

Kovalev looks to help the Canadiens continue their surge towards

the playoffs and win their fourth straight game Monday night

against the Ottawa Senators.

With the playoffs a week away, seventh-place Montreal (41-27-10)

has a three-point lead over the eighth-place New York Rangers

and is within three points of fourth in the Eastern Conference.

The Canadiens are coming off a 6-2 victory over Toronto on

Saturday and have been tough to slow down lately.

Montreal is outscoring its opponents 15-4 during a three-game

winning streak and is 5-0-1 since March 24. The Canadiens' power

play has been instrumental in the last six games, going

13-for-35 (37.1 percent).

"We're trying to grab as many points as we can and move up the

standings," Montreal forward Chris Higgins. "The confidence in

the room is back - that's pretty obvious to tell. I think we've

got four games left here and if we continue to play the way

we've been playing the last couple games, then we'll have the

right mind-set for the playoffs."

While the Canadiens are on the verge of clinching a playoff

berth, things didn't look as promising a few weeks ago.

On March 21, Montreal suffered a 5-2 loss to the Maple Leafs to

drop its fifth straight (0-3-2) and fall to eighth in the East.

The Canadiens broke out of their funk with a 6-3 win over

Atlanta on March 24 behind two goals and an assist from Kovalev.

Kovalev had a goal and three assists Saturday and has been

red-hot lately. The 16-year veteran has seven goals and eight

assists in Montreal's last six games after having two goals and

no assists in his previous eight.

"I'm probably playing as good as I have been all year," Kovalev

said. "Like I've said many times, sometimes you try to do too

much on your own instead of using your partners. Right now I

kind of know more about the players that I'm playing with."

Goaltender Jaroslav Halak could make his third consecutive start

Monday in place of Carey Price, who has the flu.

Halak made 34 saves Saturday after turning aside 26 shots in

Thursday's 5-1 win over the New York Islanders. He is 2-1-0 with

a 2.98 goals-against average in three games versus the Senators

(34-34-10) this season.

The Canadiens are 4-1-0 against Ottawa with their only loss

coming during their slump three weeks ago.

The Senators are going to miss the playoffs for the first time

since 1995-96, but are still trying to have an impact on the

postseason.

Ottawa is coming off Saturday's 4-3 shootout victory over

Philadelphia, one of the teams in the mix for the fourth spot in

the East.

Jason Spezza scored his 31st goal 3:47 into the third period to

tie the score at 3 and Mike Fisher scored the winner in the

fifth round of the shootout.

"It's always nice to score like that," Fisher said. "We didn't

quit. We got behind and Spezza got a nice one to get back in it

and that's a pretty good team."

Alex Auld made 31 saves against the Flyers, winning for the

second time in his last six starts. He is 0-2-1 with a 3.00 GAA

versus Montreal this season.

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