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.
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
Michael Cammalleri – Tomas Plekanec – Brian Gionta
Max Pacioretty – David Desharnais – Erik Cole
Andrei Kostitsyn – Lars Eller – Travis Moen
Mathieu Darche – Michael Blunden
Josh Gorges – P.K. Subban
Alexei Emelin – Raphael Diaz
Tomas Kaberle – Chris Campoli