|Date of game: 3/6/2014
Montreal Canadiens (35-22-7) at Phoenix Coyotes (28-23-11), 9 p.m. (ET)
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Montreal Canadiens seemingly swooped in at the final hour to acquire winger Thomas Vanek in an effort to improve their playoff chances.
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 the shootout.
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 Western Conference.
Phoenix snapped a four-game slide on Tuesday with a 1-0 win over the Vancouver Canucks.
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.