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Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 4:43 PM

By Arpon Basu -  Managing Editor LNH.com /NHL.com - NHL.com Countdown to the Trade Deadline blog

Habs face reality of being sellers at deadline

The Montreal Canadiens will play host to the Washington Capitals in a Hockey Night in Canada Saturday matinee in February, but the franchise is in a position it is not accustomed to.

Montreal is 19-23-9 and with 47 points the Canadiens are in a three-way tie for the least in the Eastern Conference. As a dashing run towards a postseason berth becomes more and more improbable, Montreal is likely to face the reality of becoming a seller at the trade deadline. 

Here’s what NHL.com’s Arpon Basu wrote earlier today on the subject for the League’s French website:

While a playoff spot is a distant 11 points away, the Canadiens find themselves just two points out of 29th in the League standings. The situation has many of the team’s fans openly excited about the prospect of landing a top-five pick in the 2012 Entry Draft, and it also positions the Canadiens as potential sellers leading up to the Feb. 27 trade deadline.

With both the deadline and the standings serving as potential distractions for his players, coach Randy Cunneyworth will have quite a job to do to keep the Canadiens focused over the coming weeks.

“What I look at – and what I hope my players look at – is what’s in front of us today, maybe tomorrow, but beyond that it doesn’t matter at this time. What matters is today,” Cunneyworth said. “To look beyond today or tomorrow would be too overwhelming.”

The Canadiens have a few players set to hit unrestricted free agency who could be attractive to contending teams looking to shore up at the deadline.

Rugged forward Travis Moen and penalty killing specialist Hal Gill are both former Stanley Cup winners who have excelled in the playoffs with the Canadiens.

Gill has played a more limited role with the club this season, but his ability to shutdown opposing teams’ top players becomes a very valued commodity in the playoffs when matchups become so much more important.

As for Moen, he is just two goals and five points shy of his career highs in each category while still serving as a top-end penalty killer for the Canadiens. He is currently out with an upper body injury, but Cunneyworth said he hopes to have Moen back next week.

Then there is defenseman Chris Campoli, who has dressed in just 10 of the 19 games Cunneyworth has coached.

Signed late in the summer to add a veteran presence to a young defense group, Campoli tore a hamstring on opening night. Then after his second game back, head coach Jacques Martin was fired and Campoli has not been able to grab a regular spot on a Canadiens defense that is not loaded with star power.

Campoli was acquired by the Chicago Blackhawks prior to last season’s trade deadline from the Ottawa Senators and he played an important role with them, which is why he is convinced he can still do the same.

Except he hopes he gets that chance in Montreal.

“The most frustrating thing is I’m capable of more. Playing top-four minutes in Chicago last year, I know I’m capable of more,” Campoli said. “But my focus day by day is trying to get back in this lineup. As far as future opportunities are concerned, that’s not what I’m focused on.

“Having said that, if someone thinks enough of you to trade for you, it’s tough moving on but from my past experience it’s something you would have to be excited about. But again, my focus is on being a Montreal Canadien and trying to get back in this lineup.”

For Campoli’s teammates, it is keeping that same focus of playing for the pride that comes with wearing a Canadiens sweater that will be challenging. And in Lars Eller’s eyes, simply talking about it has become very tiresome.

“It’s very frustrating because there’s been so much talk,” he said. “Too much talk on what’s not being done right, and this or that, blah, blah, blah. The focus has been on the wrong things. There should be less talk and more acting out there. That’s the short story.”
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Posted On Wednesday, 01.25.2012 / 2:54 PM

By Arpon Basu -  Managing Editor LNH.com /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Wings won't overlook struggling Canadiens

MONTREAL -- Two Original Six teams with gloried histories will meet tonight, but that is just about the only similarity you could find between the Detroit Red Wings and the Montreal Canadiens.

The Red Wings have been the NHL’s model franchise for years, a team with stable management that has followed a well-thought-out plan to produce consistent contenders. The Canadiens once were in that position but haven't been there for quite some time, and currently are enduring a franchise-record Stanley Cup drought of 18 years that in all likelihood will be extended this season.

On paper the game between the League's first-place team and one that sits 24th in the standings should be no contest. And that is exactly what Red Wings coach Mike Babcock does not want his players to be thinking.

"I sure hope not," Babcock said after the Red Wings' morning skate. "I think this team has good players, I know their goaltender's outstanding. They seem to play a tight, organized system. I know they did under Jacques (Martin, former coach), and I know Randy (Cunneyworth) from coaching against him in the minors, so I don't think they'll be any different. It's going to be a tough test for us. I think we understand that each and every night."

Babcock said people should not let the Red Wings' current seven-game win streak fool them into thinking his club simply is steamrolling over the League.

"You know, when you win games, game after game after game, some people on the outside think you're winning them all by a touchdown," he said. "They’re 3-2 and 2-1 every night, it's tight every night. It's a shootout, it's overtime -- it's a grind."

Babcock isn't joking, as four of the Red Wings' wins in their current streak came via the shootout while another came in overtime.

Detroit's last loss was Jan. 10 on Long Island, a situation that is somewhat similar to the one the Red Wings will face tonight in Montreal -- facing an Eastern Conference team sitting near the bottom of the standings.

"The Islanders beat us like a rented mule. It wasn't even fair," said Babcock. "We thought they were the '68 Habs. I'm not trying to take anything away from them, but we weren't ready to go. Sometimes those things happen, it's an 82-game schedule. Yet we've been a pretty consistent team that's found ways to play well without the puck and score enough goals to win most nights."

Star center Henrik Zetterberg said the players want to correct what has been their only fault this season, and that's a 13-13-0 record on the road.

He said playing in the charged atmosphere of the Bell Centre should help the Red Wings.

"We haven't been as good as we wanted on the road, even though we've won a few games lately," said Zetterberg. "I don't think we're playing to the standard that we want. Especially coming into this building, you kind of circle this date early in the year. We're looking forward to this. It's great fans, it's real loud -- we're going to be fired up to play here."
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Posted On Wednesday, 01.25.2012 / 12:50 PM

By Arpon Basu -  Managing Editor LNH.com /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Lidstrom's status in question as Wings visit Habs

MONTREAL -- There is some intrigue regarding tonight's lone game on the NHL schedule, the Detroit Red Wings versus the Montreal Canadiens.

Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom left the morning skate early and was announced as a game-time decision due to illness.

Should Lidstrom be unable to go, it would snap his team-best streak of 213 straight games played.

On the Canadiens side, Travis Moen and Petteri Nokelainen are both out with upper-body injuries, meaning Randy Cunneyworth will dress seven defensemen and AHL call-up Andreas Engqvist will be in the lineup.

The goaltending matchup will be no surprise as fellow All-Stars Carey Price and Jimmy Howard will be in the nets.

Here are the expected lineups, and we're going on the assumption Lidstrom will dress:

RED WINGS
Johan Franzen - Pavel Datsyuk - Todd Bertuzzi
Valtteri Filppula - Henrik Zetterberg - Jiri Hudler 
Danny Cleary - Darren Helm - Drew Miller
Tomas Holmstrom - Cory Emmerton - Justin Abdelkader

Nicklas Lidstrom - Ian White
Brad Stuart - Niklas Kronwall
Jonathan Ericsson - Jakub Kindl

Jimmy Howard
Ty Conklin

CANADIENS
Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Erik Cole
Rene Bourque - Tomas Plekanec - Scott Gomez
Andrei Kostitsyn - Lars Eller - Michael Blunden
Mathieu Darche - Andreas Engqvist

Josh Gorges - P.K. Subban
Alexei Emelin - Raphael Diaz
Hal Gill - Tomas Kaberle
Chris Campoli

Carey Price
Peter Budaj
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Posted On Wednesday, 01.18.2012 / 1:42 PM

By Arpon Basu -  Managing Editor LNH.com /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Habs aim for back-to-back wins vs. angry Caps

MONTREAL -- The Montreal Canadiens once again will attempt to embark on a potentially season-saving winning streak tonight, but they will have to do it against an angry Washington Capitals team.

Not only do the Capitals have injured teammate Nicklas Backstrom on their minds as they face the player who hurt him, Montreal's Rene Bourque, but they are coming off a 3-0 loss at home to the New York Islanders on Tuesday, when they generated just 17 shots on goal.

"We came out flat, they jumped on us on their power play and they shut us down after that," Capitals coach Dale Hunter said. "We didn't generate much. They trapped it up and did a good job. You've got to give them credit."

The loss was just the Capitals' third in their past 10 games, and it was the first time all season they've been shut out. But this game marks the first of a stretch of six out of seven games on the road, with the final one of those games back here in Montreal on Feb. 4. Washington has struggled mightily away from Verizon Center this season, with a 7-12-1 road record, including just one win in their past six road games (1-4-1).

The Canadiens, coming off a convincing 4-1 win against the New York Rangers, will look to string together consecutive wins for just the fifth time this season. Aside from a four-game win streak from Oct. 26 to Nov. 4, the Habs have won as many as two games in a row on just three other occasions.

Coach Randy Cunneyworth will go with the same lineup that beat the Rangers, meaning he will dress seven defensemen and 11 forwards for an eighth straight game. The lone exception will be Carey Price coming back in for Peter Budaj in goal.

Hunter would not confirm whether he would go with Tomas Vokoun or Michal Neuvirth in net, but did say that defenseman John Erskine will draw in for rookie Tomas Kundratek.

The game also will mark the Bell Centre return of former Canadiens Roman Hamrlik and Jeff Halpern, who both left Montreal over the summer to sign as free agents with Washington.
Here are the expected lineups:

CAPITALS
Alex Ovechkin - Marcus Johansson - Alexander Semin
Mike Knuble - Brooks Laich - Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera - Jeff Halpern - Joel Ward
Cody Eakin - Mathieu Perreault - Matt Hendricks

Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Roman Hamrlik - Dennis Wideman
Dmitry Orlov - John Erskine
 
CANADIENS
Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Erik Cole
Travis Moen - Lars Eller - Andrei Kostitsyn
Rene Bourque - Tomas Plekanec - Mike Blunden
Mathieu Darche - Scott Gomez
 
Josh Gorges - P.K. Subban
Alexei Emelin - Raphael Diaz
Hal Gill - Yannick Weber
Tomas Kaberle

Carey Price will start in net, with Peter Budaj the backup.
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Posted On Sunday, 01.15.2012 / 5:40 PM

By Arpon Basu -  Managing Editor LNH.com /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Bourque ready to make debut with Canadiens

MONTREAL -- After serving the final game of his suspension for an elbow to Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals on Saturday, newly acquired left wing Rene Bourque will make his debut with the Montreal Canadiens tonight against the New York Rangers.

Coach Randy Cunneyworth said Bourque will line up on the left of Tomas Plekanec, with Michael Blunden on the opposite wing. It could very well be the biggest linemates Plekanec has had his whole career.

Bourque watched from the press box as his new teammates dropped a 3-2 shootout to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday, and Cunneyworth says he couldn't be more excited to try on his new uniform.

"What we're looking at is a guy who champing at the bit to get going," Cunneyworth said.

Bourque will slide into a spot filled Saturday by Scott Gomez in his first game back from a groin injury that cost him 21 games. Cunneyworth said Gomez will see some time at center on the fourth line in Sunday's game after playing exclusively on the wing with Plekanec on Saturday.

Peter Budaj will get just his sixth start in goal for the Canadiens, and his first since Dec. 21 when he allowed four goals in a 5-1 loss in Chicago. Cunneyworth said he had no problem relying on a cold goaltender against a team as formidable as the Rangers, who enter the night first in the overall standings.

"We have the utmost confidence in both our goaltenders," he said, adding he has leaned a bit too heavily on Carey Price of late.

Both teams played Saturday night, with the Rangers winning 3-0 in Toronto, a game coach John Tortorella felt his team "defended as well as we have all year."

Martin Biron got the shutout in that game, so Henrik Lundqvist will get the start Sunday in a building that has historically not been kind to him. Lundqvist has a career mark of 4-4-2 with a 3.86 GAA and .877 save percentage in 11 career starts in Montreal.

Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky will miss his third straight game with a shoulder injury.

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Posted On Saturday, 01.14.2012 / 2:02 PM

By Arpon Basu -  Managing Editor LNH.com /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Bourque thrilled at chance to play in Montreal

MONTREAL -- Rene Bourque says he's always wanted to play for the Montreal Canadiens, and with a name like his that would be understandable even though the Alberta native doesn't speak a word of French.

So when he walked into the Canadiens dressing room for the first time Saturday morning after his trade Thursday from the Calgary Flames, Bourque was a bit awestruck by the sheer volume of hockey history decorating the walls.

"It's awesome," Bourque said. "I still haven't really had the chance to look around and look at all the plaques and the names on the wall, and I'm sure they have Stanley Cup banners everywhere. It's exciting. I've always wanted to play here, I just didn't think it would be this soon."

Bourque's excitement will have to wait another day as he will watch the Canadiens face the red hot Ottawa Senators on Saturday night while serving the final game of his five-game ban for elbowing Washington's Nicklas Backstrom in the head.

Bourque was brought in by Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier because he brings a physical dimension that the departed Michael Cammalleri did not, but for a player who has been suspended twice in the past month it creates a delicate balance of trying to stay on the good side of the law while also doing what your new team expects of you.

Bourque, however, anticipates no problem in his ability to stick to his physical game while also playing within the rules.

"Obviously what I did was wrong and it was unfortunate, but it was more of a reaction than a body check. So I'm not really worried about being timid out there and staying away from physical contact, because if I'm not doing that you probably won't like my style," Bourque said. "I've never had a problem with a suspension until this past month. It's been seven years with no red flags, then two in one month, it changes your perception. I'm not worried about it, I know what I've done and I'll learn from it."

His new coach Randy Cunneyworth was a physical presence in his own playing days, and says that changed perception may not necessarily be a bad thing for Bourque.

"It makes guys a little bit leery when you know a guy has that reckless tendency," Cunneyworth said. "So maybe you shy away a bit and then you can win those battles."

A very common criticism of Bourque's game is that when he's on, he can be dominant, but those games are not nearly common enough. Bourque has heard it before and hopes this new opportunity with the third organization of his career will give him a chance to correct that inconsistent tendency.

"I'm working on it every game, I have to get better every game," Bourque said. "This is a fresh start for me here, it's a clean slate. I'm looking to shed that reputation, I guess."

How exactly Bourque will be used remains to be seen, but the addition of another big body makes it easier for Cunneyworth to implement his philosophy of how to construct forward lines.

"We're trying to design lines with elements of everything," he said.

That means having a playmaker, a shooter and a grinding, physical player on every line, but before Bourque arrived there weren't enough of those physical type players on the roster to properly spread the wealth and Cunneyworth said he liked the options Bourque provides him.

Bourque, meanwhile, simply likes the idea of pulling on that Canadiens uniform for the first time Sunday night.

"It's sinking in, I'm definitely getting more and more excited as they day goes on," Bourque said. "I can't wait to play tomorrow night in front of the fans here."
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Posted On Saturday, 01.14.2012 / 1:10 PM

By Arpon Basu -  Managing Editor LNH.com /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Canadiens, Senators

Here are the expected lineups for tonight's game between the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens.

Of note, the Canadiens will be welcoming back Scott Gomez off a 21-game absence due to a groin injury. He will slide into the spot vacated by the departure of Michael Cammalleri to the Flames, playing on the left side of Tomas Plekanec with Michael Blunden on the right. However, coach Randy Cunneyworth said Erik Cole will rotate in a little bit on the right wing of that line.

Newly-acquired left wing Rene Bourque skated with his teammates for the first time this morning, but he will serve the final game of his five-game suspension for elbowing Washington's Nicklas Backstrom and won't be available to make his Canadiens debut until Sunday night at home against the New York Rangers.

Cunneyworth also confirmed he will dress seven defensemen and 11 forwards for a sixth straight game. Yannick Weber, who scored Montreal's lone goal in a 2-1 loss in Boston on Thursday, should dress instead of Chris Campoli.

For Ottawa coach Paul MacLean there will be no changes to the lineup, and why would he considering the impressive 3-0 win the team is coming off of against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Thursday?

CANADIENS
Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Erik Cole
Scott Gomez - Tomas Plekanec - Michael Blunden
Travis Moen - Lars Eller - Andrei Kostitsyn
Mathieu Darche - Petteri Nokelainen

Josh Gorges - P.K. Subban
Alexei Emelin - Raphael Diaz
Tomas Kaberle - Yannick Weber
Hal Gill

Carey Price
Peter Budaj

SENATORS

Milan Michalek - Jason Spezza - Colin Greening
Erik Condra - Kyle Turris - Daniel Alfredsson
Nick Foligno - Zack Smith - Chris Neil
Kaspars Daugavins - Zenon Konopka - Bobby Butler

Filip Kuba - Erik Karlsson
Sergei Gonchar - Jared Cowen
Brian Lee - Chris Phillips

Craig Anderson
Alex Auld
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.10.2012 / 2:44 PM

By Arpon Basu -  Managing Editor LNH.com /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Showdown in Montreal about more than the goalies

MONTREAL – The obvious storyline in Montreal tonight will be Canadiens goalie Carey Price facing the man who stole his job and led the franchise on its longest playoff run since its last Stanley Cup win in 1993, St. Louis Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak.

But even after all this time has passed, Price still sticks to the story he kept telling over and over again as Halak was leading the Canadiens to the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals.

“That was a good thing about our relationship,” Price said Monday. “Any relationship between two goalies has got to be healthy. It was his job to push me and mine to push him. He was playing well. At the end of the day the guy who’s playing the best is going to play, and he was playing extremely well so he deserved the ice time.”

Both star attractions have insisted this is not a game pitting goalie vs. goalie, but rather one pitting a team desperate to save its season against another team who has already accomplished just that.

The Blues have gone 18-5-5 since Ken Hitchcock took over behind the bench in place of Davis Payne to rocket up to fourth in the Western Conference standings. But the Blues record on the road over that span is just 4-3-3, having benefitted greatly from a schedule heavily weighted with home games.

After leaving Montreal, St. Louis will play eight of its next nine games at home before embarking on a brutal stretch of 18 out of 26 games on the road. So Hitchcock is hoping his club will figure out its problems away from home in Montreal.

“It’s not about where you’re playing, it’s about playing on the road,” he said. “We’ve played awful well on the road then had a bit of a glitch and broke a few times and let in goals quickly. I think for us it’s just to keep going. We can put a lot of pressure on people if we’re forechecking and putting our game out there, we just have to stay with it a bit longer. We can’t let other team’s goalies frustrate us the way we have the last few road games.”

The Canadiens have the opposite problem.

They have played reasonably well on the road but have struggled at home for most of the season. Yet the Habs have won their last two at the Bell Centre and will be looking to win a third straight game on home ice for the first time this season.

Lineup changes should be minimal on both sides.

The Blues welcome back defenseman Ian Cole after he completed his three-game suspension for a hit on Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader.

The Canadiens were unsure of Max Pacioretty’s availability after he missed practice Monday with the flu, but he was on the ice this morning and looks ready to go. Coach Randy Cunneyworth will once again dress seven defensemen and it looks likely that center Petteri Nokelainen will be scratched for a second straight game as a result.

Of course, there’s no need to remind anyone of the goaltending matchup.

Here are the expected lineups for the game.

BLUES

David Perron - David Backes - Chris Stewart
Matt D'Agostini - Patrik Berglund - T.J. Oshie
Vladimir Sobotka - Jason Arnott - Jamie Langenbrunner
Ryan Reaves - Scott Nichol - B.J. Crombeen

Carlo Colaiacovo - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Ian Cole - Roman Polak

Jaroslav Halak

CANADIENS

Michael CammalleriTomas PlekanecBrian Gionta
Max PaciorettyDavid DesharnaisErik Cole
Andrei KostitsynLars EllerTravis Moen
Mathieu DarcheMichael Blunden
 
Josh GorgesP.K. Subban
Alexei EmelinRaphael Diaz
Tomas KaberleChris Campoli
Hal Gill

Carey Price
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Posted On Monday, 01.09.2012 / 4:24 PM

By Arpon Basu -  Managing Editor LNH.com /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Gomez nearing return for Canadiens

Montreal Canadiens center Scott Gomez practiced with his teammates for a second straight day and looks to be on his way to a return from an upper-body injury that has cost him the past 19 games.

He looked to be close to a return last month when he began practicing, but he was sent right back on the shelf when he re-aggravated the injury.

"I tried to rush it last time a little bit and there was a setback," Gomez said after Monday's skate, "so you don't want that to happen again."

Gomez skated on left wing on a line with David Desharnais and Erik Cole on Monday, taking the place of Max Pacioretty, who was home with the flu.

Interim coach Randy Cunneyworth said he was not sure whether or not Pacioretty would be back for Tuesday's game against the St. Louis Blues, but it is clear Gomez will not be ready in time.

"We're looking at it fairly soon, but he's not quite there," Cunneyworth said. "He's been working hard and it would be great to get him back."

The question is where Gomez would fit in the lineup when he is ready to play. The top three center spots are currently filled by Tomas Plekanec, David Desharnais and Lars Eller. While Desharnais and Eller would be the natural candidates to lose their spot to Gomez, both have been playing very well of late and each had more ice time than Plekanec in Montreal's 3-1 win against Tampa Bay on Saturday night.

"It's a nice problem to have," Cunneyworth said. "Any time you have an abundance of quality guys who can play well, decisions have to be made."

Gomez's performance on the ice coupled with his huge salary cap figure has not exactly made him a popular figure in Montreal. He has just 4 assists in 13 games this season, and dating back to the start of last season Gomez has 7 goals, 35 assists and a minus-18 rating in 94 games. Still, Cunneyworth sees him as an important part of his team's fortunes as it attempts to climb back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

"I think he's a top-six guy with his skills and presence on the ice," Cunneyworth said. "That remains to be seen (where he plays in the lineup), it will come through his play. Any line we put him on, it will make it a more skilled group. If he's on the first line or the fourth line, he has to do what he does best."

This is one of the few times in Gomez's career he's missed a significant portion of the season to injury. Since his rookie season with the New Jersey Devils in 1999-2000 he has only missed more than six games in any given season on one occasion, when he played 72 games for the Devils in 2006-07. Having already missed 28 games, including a nine-game absence earlier this season, Gomez is guaranteed to establish a new career-low for games played.

"It's been a while since I sat out this much," Gomez said. "No one wants to be in this position, you just don't feel a part of it. It's a bad feeling, you don’t feel like you're contributing. You feel like you're in the way."
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Posted On Saturday, 01.07.2012 / 3:29 PM

By Arpon Basu -  Managing Editor LNH.com /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Seven Up: Habs, Lightning could both dress extra d-man

MONTREAL – A traditional hockey lineup consists of 12 forwards, six defensemen and a goalie, but there are two teams facing off at Bell Centre tonight who see that template differently.

Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher regularly used seven defensemen and 11 forwards last season on his way to the Eastern Conference final, while Montreal Canadiens coach Randy Cunneyworth rotated seven defensemen in a 7-3 win against the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday.

Cunneyworth appeared to be leaning towards doing the same thing tonight against the Lightning even though the return of Brian Gionta to the lineup makes it somewhat unnecessary. Meanwhile, the only reason Boucher hasn’t used it more this season is because he simply hasn’t had enough healthy defensemen to do it.

That may change tonight as newly acquired defenseman Brendan Mikkelson is available to play.

“When you play with seven D it gets guys like Stamkos, Lecavalier and St. Louis on the ice more often, and it also means you’re defensemen are playing fewer minutes,” Boucher said. “It’s something I’ve used in the past, actually I’ve used it almost every year except this one. But if that’s something we can do, it’s something I would look forward to.”

As for Cunneyworth, his decision to dress seven defensemen Wednesday meant Chris Campoli, Tomas Kaberle and Hal Gill essentially split the third-pairing minutes. It also meant right wing Erik Cole was double and sometimes triple-shifted, resulting in a career-high 27:04 of ice time.

While it would appear that is not a system that could be used on a long-term basis, Cunneyworth didn’t agree, particularly with Gionta being able to take some of those extra shifts from Cole on the right side.

“If the results are there, certainly,” Cunneyworth said when asked if the seven defenseman lineup was sustainable. “I think it creates pressure to perform (on defense). There’s some competition to play the right way, and I think that can be a good thing.”

Gill – who has played 22:35 combined over the past two games – received the fewest minutes among the seven defensemen Wednesday, and while he didn’t want to complain about it he wasn’t exactly thrilled with it either.

“I’d like to play the role the team needs me to play,” he said. “But obviously I’d like to play more.”

The Canadiens had some good news on the injury front as center Scott Gomez was back skating with his teammates for the first time since suffering a setback in his recovery from an upper-body injury about three weeks ago.

“He’s coming along,” Cunneyworth said. “He appears to be on the mend, so we’re upping the ante little.”

The Canadiens and Lightning enter the game tied in points at 37 apiece, with Tampa holding a game in hand. It makes the contest a four-point game between two playoff teams from last season who find themselves in a desperate fight to book a ticket to this spring’s edition.

Some may find it early to be using the term “desperate,” but the NHL’s goal scoring leader Steven Stamkos is not one of them.

“I don’t think it’s early, we’re halfway done here,” Stamkos said. “These are the game we have to win. You don’t win these games, there’s no race. You’re not even in the discussion for the playoffs. We have to show some desperation. We’re in the same boat as these guys, so it should be a good game tonight.”
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Quote of the Day

I have been blessed to play for 16 years in the NHL; it has been an amazing ride. I would like to thank the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers organizations and owners for providing me the opportunity to play the sport I love for so many years. I could have never played for so long or accomplished all that I have without the unwavering love and support from my wife, Heather, our three sons, Ryan, Lucas, and Mason, and my parents.

— Martin St. Louis after announcing his retirement from the NHL on Thursday