Since clinching a playoff berth, the Montreal Canadiens have endured a slide that they're hoping won't cost them home-ice advantage in the first round.
The New Jersey Devils wish they had such problems.
Montreal looks to get back on track Tuesday night against host New Jersey, which officially has been eliminated from postseason contention.
The Canadiens (27-13-5) secured a playoff appearance with a 5-1 win at Buffalo on April 11, but they've since dropped four of five after falling 5-1 to Washington on Sunday.
Montreal, which has given up 25 goals during that stretch, is tied with Boston for the Northeast Division lead - and the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference - though the Bruins have a game in hand. The Canadiens are four points ahead of Toronto for the fourth seed with three games left.
They'll finish the regular season on a three-game road trip that includes visits to Winnipeg on Thursday and Toronto on Saturday.
"Teams that come in hungry and on a roll are teams that go far in the playoffs," forward Travis Moen told the team's official website. "We've got three games here to turn it around. It's just staying positive, getting things rolling and playing like we were the first 20 games. If we can do that, we'll be fine."
Getting off to better starts likely will be part of the focus. They've fallen behind by at least two goals in the first period in each of their last four defeats, including giving up two goals on the Capitals' first three shots Sunday.
Carey Price, who has won both of Montreal's matchups with New Jersey this season, has a 5.45 goals-against average over his last five appearances, but defenseman Josh Gorges said the team also needs to be better in front of him.
"You can't just show up in Game 1 of the playoffs and think, 'Now I'm going to start playing, now our team's going to click,'" Gorges said. "We have to bounce back and have that championship mentality."
The Devils seemed to have just that last season on their way to a surprising run to the Stanley Cup finals, but they've struggled lately and were eliminated from the playoff chase with a 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Sunday.
New Jersey (17-18-10) lost 10 straight from March 25-April 15 as Ilya Kovalchuk was sidelined with a shoulder injury, all but sealing its postseason fate.
Kovalchuk's return for the last two games wasn't enough to resurrect the Devils' playoff chances.
"It hasn't sunk in," said coach Peter DeBoer, who was ejected with 16.2 seconds remaining Sunday as emotions boiled over. "I think you don't want to think about it until it's actually a reality. It's not the way you want to go out. We'll have to regroup and fix it going forward."
It marks only the second time in 16 seasons that New Jersey hasn't qualified for the playoffs.
"It's difficult to take," said Martin Brodeur, who has a 2.37 GAA over his last 13 starts but is 2-7-4. "We've competed real hard all year."
Brodeur gave up Andrei Markov's overtime goal in a 4-3 loss at Montreal on Jan. 27 in the teams' first meeting. Tomas Plekanec scored in the third period to give the Canadiens a 2-1 victory March 16 for their fifth win in the last six matchups in New Jersey.
Price is 4-1-0 with a 1.61 GAA in his last five starts there.
The Associated Press News Service
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