MONTREAL CANADIENS @ PHILADELPHIA FLYERS PREDICTION
The Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens each have been picking up points of late, but only one team is headed to the postseason. Philadelphia can make it official with a victory Saturday night.
The Flyers can clinch a playoff berth by earning their sixth win in the last seven meetings against the visiting Canadiens, who are still fighting despite sitting in last place in the Eastern Conference.
Philadelphia (43-28-8) is in fifth place in the East, four points up on sixth-place New Jersey and four back of fourth-place Pittsburgh. It improved to 9-2-1 in March with a 2-1 shootout victory over Washington on Thursday.
Claude Giroux scored his 27th goal, and Ilya Bryzgalov recovered from allowing a goal on the game’s first shift to make 30 saves.
Bryzgalov improved to 9-1-1 with a 1.24 goals-against average this month after stopping the final three shootout attempts, and coach Peter Laviolette said he’s a major reason for the Flyers’ recent success.
Bryzgalov, though, also has been a reason the Flyers have allowed the first goal in 15 of their last 20 contests, and he may have to be stronger at the start to improve on a lifetime 0-3-1 record and 3.75 GAA versus Montreal.
Erik Cole had a natural hat trick in the first 5:41 of the Canadiens’ 5-1 win over Ottawa on Friday, tying his career high of 30 goals set in 2006-07 while with Carolina.
Cole, in his first season with Montreal (29-33-13), set the record for the franchise’s fastest hat trick. Though Cole was pleased with his effort, he said it doesn’t do much to help in an overall disappointing season for his team.
The Canadiens, despite earning a point in seven of their last eight games while going 4-1-3, are tied with the New York Islanders for the fewest points in the East.
P.K. Subban had two assists and 10 penalty minutes in a chippy contest, and he said despite the Canadiens being out of the playoff race, they’re not going to back down over their final seven games.
Carey Price made 37 saves to improve to 3-1-1 with a 1.76 GAA in his last five. However, he’s 1-5-0 with a 3.38 GAA in his last six starts versus the Flyers, and it’s unclear if he’ll get the nod in this matchup.
Giroux missed Philadelphia’s 4-3 win over Montreal in the most recent meeting Dec. 15, but he has five goals in his last five games against the Canadiens.
He scored twice in a 3-1 victory Nov. 25, marking the Flyers’ third straight home win in the series.
Montreal Canadiens – Peter Budaj
Philadelphia Flyers – Ilya Bryzgalov
Philadelphia Flyers -1.5 (+130 odds) (5 UNITS)
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS @ OTTAWA SENATORS PREDICTION
Evgeni Malkin is a major reason the Pittsburgh Penguins are closing in on the Eastern Conference lead with the Presidents’ Trophy also in sight. The Russian superstar is making a case for a trophy of his own.
Malkin looks to continue his torrid scoring pace Saturday night as the Penguins hope to move atop the conference when they visit the sputtering Ottawa Senators.
Despite playing just 66 games, Malkin leads the NHL with 95 points for his highest total since getting a career-high 113 in 2008-09. Pittsburgh (46-21-6) went on to win the Stanley Cup that season behind his Conn Smythe Trophy performance.
Malkin’s recent play has helped turn the Penguins into a favorite to claim another Cup. The All-Star center has 13 goals and 11 assists during their dizzying 13-0-1 run, including seven goals and as many assists during a six-game scoring streak.
He found the net twice for the second consecutive game in Thursday’s 5-1 victory over Nashville.
Pittsburgh is one point behind the New York Rangers for the East lead, and three back of league-leading St. Louis. The Rangers face Toronto while the Blues are idle Saturday, and the Penguins have at least one game in hand on each club.
Good things may also be in store for Malkin, perhaps the favorite for the Hart Trophy.
Malkin’s case for the honor has been reinforced by his ability to spark the Penguins in Crosby’s absence for much of the season.
A meeting with Ottawa (37-28-10) may just keep him rolling. Malkin has 25 points in 22 career games against the Senators, getting 10 goals and three assists in the last nine.
Neal has been adding some scoring punch with five goals and nine assists in his last six games. He had a career-high four points in Tuesday’s 8-4 win over Winnipeg, then matched that feat with four assists, two on goals by Malkin, against the Predators.
The Senators, meanwhile, have seen their playoff position become precarious during an untimely three-game slide, during which they’ve been outscored 9-2. They remain seventh in the East, but just two points ahead of Washington and Buffalo.
That obviously didn’t happen Friday when Ottawa surrendered four goals in the opening 8:21 en route to a 5-1 loss at Montreal, which is at the bottom of the conference.
Production from Milan Michalek could help the Senators solidify their position. The left wing leads the team with a career-high 32 goals, but hasn’t found the net in seven games since a hat trick in a win at Tampa Bay on March 6.
Michalek scored twice in a 5-1 win at Pittsburgh on Jan. 10.
Erik Karlsson had three assists in a 6-4 home victory over the Penguins on Dec. 16. He leads all NHL defensemen with 72 points, although he doesn’t have any during the Senators’ current skid.
Malkin has three goals and two assists during the season series, but the Penguins are 1-2-0.
Pittsburgh Penguins – Brad Thiessen
Ottawa Senators – Ben Bishop
Pittsburgh Penguins vs Ottawa Senators OVER 5.5 (5 UNITS)
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