The Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Blackhawks clash tonight at the Bell Centre in a pivotal "Original Six" match.
With the playoffs just over a week away, both teams want this victory badly.
The Canadiens will be trying to punch their playoff ticket, while the Blackhawks are trying not to slip out of the top eight in the West.
Tonight's game will be the sole meeting between these two teams this season.
Chicago hasn't fared well in Montreal recently, losing the last four games they've played at the Bell Centre. In addition, they have only won three of the last 10 between the two teams.
With 91 points in the standings, the Canadiens are in a sixth place tie for points in the East with the Rangers. However, Montreal is ahead of New York in the standings in virtue of their game in hand.
Tonight will be the Canadiens' final home game of the season.
As such, Montreal will be desperate to clinch their playoffs spot tonight at home, If not the Habs could be leaving it to chance over their final two games in Ottawa (Thursday) and Toronto (Saturday).
A Canadiens victory would give them 93 points, ensuring the ninth-place Canes could only catch, but not pass, them in the standings.
For the Blackhawks, they will be looking to make things easier on themselves and harder on the Flames.
With 92 points in the standings, Chicago has a tenuous hold on the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. A win tonight would increase their buffer over the ninth place Flames to three points, while still holding a game in hand.
Montreal native, Cory Crawford, will be facing his hometown team for the first time. Crawford will be getting his 52nd start of the season and will be looking for his 32nd win.
This will be Crawford's 24th straight start, a span in which the Hawks have gone 14-6-4 and clawed their way back into the playoffs contention.
Carey Price, who is fresh off winning the Molson Cup for the 2010-2011 season, will be making his 71st start for the Habs.
A victory by Price would push his total to 37 this season, tying him for first overall with Roberto Luongo.
Scoring and Special Teams
The loss of Patrick Sharp from the Blackhawks lineup has been a major blow to the team. That being said, they still possess a much more potent offense than the Canadiens.
Chicago has the fourth best goals-for at 3.1 per game (246 total goals) and the second overall power play at 23.9 percent. On the defensive side of the puck things are a little more arduous for the Hawks.
They have the 12th best goals-against at 2.7 per game (214 total goals) and a weak 25th overall penalty kill at 79.4 percent.
Montreal, on the other hand, continues to have problems scoring goals with a 22nd overall 2.6 goals per game (208 total goals). Their power play, however, while relatively ineffective in recent weeks is seventh overall at 19.3 percent.
Defensively the Canadiens are in good position with the 10th goals-against at 2.5 per game (204 total goals). In addition their penalty kill is ninth overall at 83.8 percent efficiency.
With Montreal having the last change tonight, Jacques Martin will do his best line matching to try keeping the puck in the Blackhawks end. With sharp-shooters like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, among others, Montreal definitely wants to limit their scoring chances.
Roster Changes and Injuries
Jeff Halpern, who looks like he came back to the lineup too early, is listed as day-to-day with a lower body injury. Aside from Halpern, it is same old, same old for the Canadiens with Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges, Alex Picard, Max Pacioretty and Jaroslav Spacek on the sidelines.
Both Spacek and Pacioretty have been skating in the past week but neither is ready to return to the lineup. Spacek could make a return as soon as Thursday in Ottawa, while Pacioretty is still a few weeks away at best.
Injuries aside, the Canadiens will go with the same lineup that defeated the Devils on Saturday meaning the Tom Pyatt and Yannick Weber will still be on the sidelines.
The Blackhawks continue to be without the services of Patrick Sharp, Jordan Hendry and David Bolland all out indefinitely—Hendry is out for the season.
Key to Victory
As is always the case when playing against high-powered opposition, Montreal has to keep the elite Chicago scorers in check tonight.
Watch for Hal Gill and P.K. Subban to be tasked with shutting down Patrick Kane and/or Jonathan Toews. In addition, Carey Price will have to be at his best against a hungry Chicago team that has been playing playoff-like hockey for over a month.
If the Habs dynamic shutdown duo of Gill and Subban can get the job done, Montreal should be able to pull out the victory.
If not, this could end up being a nerve-racking game to watch for Habs fans.
Game time is 7:30 PM.
Kamal is a freelance Habs writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com and Habs writer onTheFranchise.ca.
Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on The Team 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 8 - 9 AM. Listen live at http:// www.team990.com/
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