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NHL: 5 things to know for Thursday

01/29/2015 12:44 EST | Updated 03/31/2015 05:59 EDT
With six Canadian teams on Thursday's NHL schedule, there's plenty of contrast among the combatants. Highlights include a Canadiens-Rangers showdown in New York, Jason Spezza's return to Ottawa and a last-place battle between the Oilers and Sabres.

Here are five things to know about tonight's games:

Rubber match between Habs, Rangers

The Canadiens and the Rangers have two of hockey's best goaltenders in Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist, but the edge seems to go to the netminder who's on home ice.

On Thursday the Canadiens (30-13-3) visit the Rangers (27-14-4) in the rubber match of their season series after each winning on home ice. Price — 6-2-0 with four shutouts vs. the Rangers in Montreal — helped the Habs to a 3-1 home victory on Oct. 25. Lundqvist blanked the Canadiens 5-0 on Nov. 23 at Madison Square Garden and was instrumental in the Rangers defeating the Canadiens in last season's Eastern Conference final. Price was injured in that series and did not play in the Canadiens' November loss in Manhattan.

Each team comes into the game playing well, with the Canadiens 13-3-1 since Dec. 9 and on a three-game win streak while the Rangers were 16-3-0 before the All-Star break before coming up flat in a 4-1 loss to the Islanders Tuesday.

Leafs, Coyotes match winless streaks

In a something's-got-to-give match-up at the Air Canada Centre, the Arizona Coyotes (16-25-6) and the host Toronto Maple Leafs (22-23-4) both carry seven-game losing streaks into Thursday's encounter.

The Coyotes, in the midst of an eight-game road trip, have been outscored 28-12 in their recent skid.

The Leafs finally secured a point in their 2-1 shootout loss in New Jersey Wednesday for their first points since a Jan. 9 win over Columbus.

Toronto was leading the Devils 1-0 until 17:10 into the third period when Adam Larsson fired a screened shot past Jonathan Bernier.

Outscored 2-0 in the shootout, the Leafs dropped their seventh decision in a row. 

Spezza returns to Ottawa with Stars

This can't be how Jason Spezza wanted his Ottawa homecoming to be. His Dallas Stars are just 21-19-7 and he's dealing with a broken nose thanks to an Alexei Emelin crosscheck that sent him into the boards in a Tuesday loss in Montreal.

Spezza, the Senators' No. 2 selection in the 2001 NHL Draft, scored 687 points in 686 games over 11 seasons with the Senators and helped the club to the 2007 Stanley CupfFinal. The 31-year-old centre asked for a trade after last season and was dealt to the Stars. He played in their 5-4 win over the Senators (19-18-9) in Dallas on Jan. 13.

"It's a date that's been circled on my calendar, so it's kind of nice to have it here and get it over with," Spezza said before the Stars headed to Ottawa. "This is a little bit of the closing of the book."

Jets, Flames hold final playoff spots

Were the Stanley Cup playoffs to start Thursday evening, the Winnipeg Jets and the Calgary Flames would be the seventh- and eighth-ranked teams in the Western Conference. They'll look to solidify those positions Thursday with the Jets (26-15-8) on the road in Philadelphia (20-22-7), while the Flames (26-19-3) host the Minnesota Wild (21-20-6).

The Jets are 6-2-2 against Eastern Conference opponents this season, but the Flyers have held the upper hand against them, going 5-1-1 in their last seven meetings, including a 4-3 overtime win Dec. 21 in Winnipeg.

The Flames, three points up on the ninth-place Los Angeles Kings, were 4-1 winners over Buffalo on Tuesday, keyed by a two-goal performance by rookie Johnny Gaudreau.

When Gaudreau scores two points or more in a game, the Flames have a 9-0-0 record.

Cellar dwellers meet in Edmonton

Some people are enamoured with a television program called The Biggest Loser. Hockey's version of that is scheduled for Thursday in Edmonton as the Oilers (12-27-9) welcome the Buffalo Sabres (14-31-3). These two struggling teams are the main adversaries in the "race" for last place and better odds of picking first in the NHL Draft (aka the Connor McDavid sweepstakes).

Buffalo has lost 12 straight overall and 12 straight on the road.

Edmonton has won two of its last six games, both against Eastern Conference opponents, but will likely be without a key offensive force, Taylor Hall, who suffered a bone bruise on his leg in practice this week.

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