Habs also singing swoon tune

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

When was the previous time the Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens missed the playoffs in the same year?

Well, the Beatles were still together and Pat Quinn was playing for Toronto, not coaching it.

But the spirit of 1970 will be in the air tonight at the Air Canada Centre, when two teams which once thought of challenging Ottawa in the Northeast Division continue their playoff scramble.

"Obviously, in an 82-game stretch you don't pick one game and say: 'That's the playoff game,' " Quinn said yesterday. "But they're always important games against Montreal, even in the days when one of the teams was not at the top."

Montreal won 12 of its first 16 games this season, then went into a slow, near-death spiral that claimed coach Claude Julien this month. Bob Gainey came down to coach from the general manager's booth for a personal assessment of the problems, with an eye to handing off to Guy Carbonneau next year.

The Habs have lost four of the past five and mustered just 12 shots against Ottawa in a 3-0 loss on Thursday.

FIGHTING THROUGH IT

"They had a stretch where nothing seemed to go right and they're fighting on through it," Quinn said, equating it to his team's woes.

The two old rivals are separated by a point heading into the game tonight, but maintaining the pride of English Canada ranks far below getting a playoff spot on the Leafs' agenda.

"We haven't gone through a spurt like this for a long, long time," said Toronto captain Mats Sundin, who was here in 1996-97 when a seven-game fall led to coach Pat Burns' dismissal.

"But at the same time, there's a lot of hockey to be played. If we win one and then three or four, we're right back in a playoff spot. You have to focus on that."

Eric Lindros will not play tonight, but hoped his healthy mates would take the pressure off with a win.

"This is not a good time, with our organization under a lot of stress," he said . "But things can turn around. It starts with one win and you build from there. Playing at home against Montreal generally brings out the best in people."


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