(SportsNetwork.com) - The Montreal Canadiens seemingly swooped in at the final
hour to acquire winger Thomas Vanek in an effort to improve their playoff
Vanek is expected to make his Habs debut on Thursday night when the club looks
to push its unbeaten streak over the Phoenix Coyotes to 15 straight games.
The Canadiens posted a 4-3 shootout win over the NHL-leading Anaheim Ducks on
Wednesday night hours after getting Vanek from the New York Islanders in
exchange for prospect Sebastian Collberg.
Montreal will also part with a 2014 second-round pick should it make the
playoffs while also getting a fifth rounder back from New York.
That seems like a safe bet with Vanek in the fold. The 30-year-old Austrian
winger is set to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer, but he could
help Montreal in its push to the playoffs this spring. Vanek has 21 goals and
32 assists over 60 games this season with the Islanders and Buffalo Sabres.
"The most important thing is to make the playoffs and right now I have a
chance to do so. This is why we play," Vanek said on Montreal's website.
"Anything can happen in the playoffs, especially when you have a goalie like
Carey Price, who I think is one of the best in the league. I've played with
Ryan Miller and Carey is just as good."
Montreal's win last night has the club in second place in the Atlantic
Division with 77 points, three ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs and four up on
the fourth-place Tampa Bay Lightning.
While Vanek mentioned playing with Price, the Habs netminder has missed all
five games since the league resumed action following a break for the Winter
Olympics. Price aggravated a lower-body injury during that tournament and it
is unknown when he will return to action.
Peter Budaj started the first four games in Price's absence and finally got a
game off last night. Dustin Tokarski made his first NHL appearance of the
season and stopped 39 shots before halting four of the six skaters he faced in
After Saku Koivu failed on his attempt for Anaheim in the tiebreaker's sixth
round, Andrei Markov fired a shot that beat Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller
five-hole to improve the Habs to 6-1-1 in their last eight games.
"He played unbelievable," Markov said of Tokarski's play. "He made great saves
to keep us in the game."
Brendan Gallagher registered a goal and an assist, while Max Pacioretty and
Brian Gionta also scored for the Canadiens, who were coming off a 2-1 setback
in Los Angeles on Monday that opened a four-game road trip. The swing ends on
Saturday versus San Jose.
Budaj is likely to return to net tonight and is 8-3-3 lifetime versus the
Coyotes with a 2.70 goals against average.
Montreal will try to avoid its first loss in this series since a setback on
the road on Dec. 9, 1998. The Canadiens have gone 11-0-0 with three ties in
the 14 meetings since, winning five times and posting one tie in the desert
over that span.
The Coyotes can ill-afford to see that winless streak extended as they come in
one point back of the Dallas Stars for the second wild card spot in the
Phoenix snapped a four-game slide on Tuesday with a 1-0 win over the Vancouver
Antoine Vermette's 22nd of the season, scored in the first period provided
Mike Smith with the only support he would need, as the 31-year-old netminder
turned aside 23 shots, 11 in the third period, to secure his third shutout of
the season and 27th of his career.
"It was kind of a sloppy hockey game, but we won," Phoenix head coach Dave
Tippett said. "That's all we need right now."
The Coyotes finish off a three-game homestand tonight before hitting the road
for four in a row and should have Martin Erat in the lineup tonight after
picking up the winger in a trade with the Washington Capitals on Tuesday.
Erat notched one goal and 23 assists in 53 games with the Caps this season.
Smith is 2-1-3 with a 2.22 GAA in seven career meetings with the Canadiens.
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