The Canes' season has a clear demarcation line to it: before New Year's Eve and after it.
Going into the Dec. 31 game at PNC Arena against the Montreal Canadiens, the Canes were in a five-game winless skid and had a 14-16-9 record. After two periods of that game, the Canes trailed the Habs 3-0 and were on the brink of a sixth loss.
But in the third, Jeff Skinner scored on an early power play, then did it again. Eric Staal and Manny Malhotra scored, and Alex Semin's overtime goal won it 5-4. It was the beginning of a five-game winning streak and a 17-game span in which the Canes have gone 12-5-0 to right their season.
"We got off to a good start in that game, then got some penalties and let them back into it," Habs forward Max Pacioretty said Saturday. "You don't forget games like that. We're up for a little revenge tonight."
The Canes and Canadiens face off in the final game before the Olympic break. Carey Price should be in net for the Habs, as he was New Year’s Eve, but the Canes are being coy about their starter.
Canes coach Kirk Muller, who turned 48 Saturday, would like to get Cam Ward into a game before the break. Ward has not played since the New Year's Eve game, missing all of January with a lower-body injury. It's also the second game of a back-to-back.
But Anton Khudobin played well Friday in the 5-1 win over Florida. Muller could let him make it 17 games in a row. There's is, after all, a lot of time to rest after it.
Pacioretty will be headed to Sochi on Sunday to play for Team USA in the Olympics -- as will the Canes' Justin Faulk. The Habs have seven players who will participate.
"Obviously there are a lot of distractions right now," Pacioretty said. "We're focused on the two points. We had a little bit of a rough stretch but we've figured it out."
The Canadiens lost four straight games and five of six in that January rough stretch. It ended Jan. 28 in Montreal, when Price shut out the Canes 3-0 with 36 saves -- perhaps a demarcation line of sorts for the Canadiens. Montreal is 4-1-1 in the past six games.
The Canes did not take a morning skate Saturday at PNC Arena. Saturday's game will be the last meeting of the season between the two teams.