Heading into the stretch drive that begins with Monday's home clash with the Edmonton Oilers, the Montreal Canadiens suffered a defeat in their last outing that might snap their focus back in place.
The Canadiens, who boast a solid hold on the fourth and final playoff spot in the North Division, were enjoying a three-game winning streak and 4-0-2 run before the last-place Ottawa Senators slapped six goals on them Saturday in a 6-3 decision in Montreal.
"It was unfortunate," forward Tyler Toffoli said. "We were kind of just chasing the game the whole time. "That's not the recipe for success in any game against any team."
Montreal has won three of the four meetings this season with Edmonton, including their last encounter, a 4-0 game on March 30 in which Edmonton's high-octane attack managed just 17 shots on goal.
The Canadiens, who have struggled at home to a 7-6-2 record, face a busy stretch ahead, even by this season's standards. Because of the COVID-19 outbreak that forced them to postpone a few games, the Canadiens will play 16 games in the next 27 days.
"We need to rest when we can and stay mentally sharp," said defenseman Jeff Petry. "Obviously, the body is going to be fatigued, but we've got to make sure that our minds stay in it and we think the game properly."
They are expecting a boost for this game, too, with center Eric Staal, acquired in a March 26 trade with the Buffalo Sabres, slated to make his Montreal debut against the Oilers.
The Oilers, who are fighting for top spot in the division with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets, arrive in Montreal on a roll. Edmonton is on a 5-1-1 run and coming off of Friday's 3-2 victory over the Calgary Flames, when they rallied to deal a crushing blow to their biggest rival's playoff hopes.
"It was like a playoff game, it was very tight," forward Dominik Kahun said. "What we talked about was out-working them and I think we did a good job of that."
The hard-earned victory against a desperate team provided a measure of satisfaction that the Oilers hope to build on.
"We've done a good job to separate ourselves from the pack a little bit and we want to continue to do that -- give teams no hope that are out of the playoffs right now," said goaltender Mike Smith. "That's the main focus of our group, to keep pushing forward for the playoffs because it's not just a switch you can turn on."
Monday's clash in Montreal also puts the Oilers back on their expected schedule following weeks of chaos. At the end of March, Edmonton had to deal with a couple of games against the Canadiens being postponed during what was to be a lengthy road trip, and then had a game with the Vancouver Canucks postponed in what was to be a longer homestand before they head east again.
"It's just how the season and the world are going," center Jujhar Khaira said. "You just have to roll with the punches. The league is trying its best. ... You just have to be ready for when the games are scheduled."
--Field Level Media