Dec 28, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Montreal Canadiens center Tomas Plekanec (14) skates as Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mark Barberio (8) defends during overtime at Tampa Bay Times Forum. Montreal Canadiens defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Montreal Canadiens In Race To Finish With Tampa Bay Lightning For Playoff Home Ice Advantage

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Feb 1, 2014; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop (30) makes a save against Montreal Canadiens right wing Brendan Gallagher (11) during the second period at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

The Montreal Canadiens have all but officially locked up a playoff berth with their 91 points in the standings. Most teams have less than ten games to play, and Montreal has an 11 point cushion on non playoff teams.

The Habs are currently second in the Atlantic Division, and though the Tampa Bay Lightning are just two points behind, there is little danger of falling further than third overall in the division standings. The Detroit Red Wings are fourth in the division, but after losing to Montreal last night, are 11 point behind with 80, and have just 9 games remaining on the season.

Feb 1, 2014; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price (31) makes a save against Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Martin St. Louis (26) during the third period at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Bruins are ahead by 15 points and have all but clinched the division title already, so the Canadiens are left to fight with the Lightning for second in the division. With the new divisional playoff setup, the rest of Montreal’s season is basically a race to the finish for home ice advantage in their opening round series with Tampa Bay.

Tampa Bay have 89 points after winning a wild 13 round shootout last night against the New York Islanders, but have two more games left to play than Montreal and sit just two points behind the Habs.

So, with a first round matchup between Montreal and Tampa Bay all but certain, and the teams in a near deadlock in the standings right now, who has the best chance of pulling ahead and gaining home ice in game one?

Feb 1, 2014; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens center Daniel Briere (48) shoots and scores a goal against Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop (30) during the third period at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

The Canadiens seven remaining games will see them play at Florida, at Tampa Bay, at Ottawa, home to Detroit, at Chicago and then home to the New York Islanders and New York Rangers.

The Lightning will play at Buffalo, at Detroit, then home to Montreal, Calgary, Dallas, Toronto, Philadelphia, Columbus and close out at Washington.

Montreal’s seven opponents have a combined record of 240-199-74 this season for a .540 points percentage. The Lightning’s opposition have a record of 304-273-80 which is a .524 point percentage, slightly lighter than what the Habs will face.

When you consider only the opponents home or road record, whichever is relevant in each case, it paints a much uglier picture for Montreal. The Habs future opponents have a combined record of 130-91-30 in their respective home or road games, which is an impressive .578 percentage of possible points in the standings.

The Lightning have a slew of home games in the schedule and face several weak road teams including the Calgary Flames, Dallas Stars and Toronto Maple Leafs. When you consider the home and road records of their upcoming opponents, they have a record of 142-138-47, or a .506 points percentage.

It is a small number of games, so anything could happen over the final two weeks of the regular season. However, it is quite clear the Lightning have a much more favorable schedule than the Montreal Canadiens.

The Canadiens will have to continue their hot streak down the stretch if they wish to begin the playoffs at the Bell Centre, and more than anything, the game in Tampa Bay on Tuesday night is an absolute must win.

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