MONTREAL -- It may only be the midpoint of the season, but everything suggests that Saturday night's game between the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins will have a playoff-type intensity to it.
First off, the natural rivalry between the two Original Six franchises always makes their games hotly contested.
But a regulation-time victory by the Canadiens would allow them to jump past the Bruins into first in the Northeast Division and third in the Eastern Conference, while Boston would slide down from third to eighth in the conference.
The way things are shaping up in the division -- with Buffalo, Ottawa and Toronto all struggling -- it's a flip-flop game that could continue right up until the end of the season.
"That's how it looks right now," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "It makes tonight's game very significant."
Adding to it is the bad blood that surfaced during the last meeting between the teams, a 4-3 Canadiens win on Dec. 16 that featured a fight between lightweights David Krejci and Michael Cammalleri.
After that game, Krejci accused the Canadiens "little guys" of throwing "ebows and everything" behind the play.
But neither side expects anything from that game to carry over to this one."Until you brought it up right now I hadn't even thought about it," said Cammalleri, who has only fought that one time in his whole career. "It's a big game, and there's obviously some added rivalry stuff going on." Bruins defensemen Andrew Ference, in typical fashion, took the supposed feud for what it's worth.
"We're probably a little bit dirty, too," he said laughing. "(We're) just a bit bigger."
Injuries are an issue on both sides of this game.
For the Bruins, Nathan Horton is unlikely to play with an undisclosed injury suffered in Thursday night's 3-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild. After starting the season with 19 points in his first 17 games, Horton has only 7 points in his last 22.
Defenseman Mark Stuart remains sidelined with a broken finger on his right hand for Boston as well.
The Canadiens have lost defensemen Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges for the season, but will welcome back blueliner Roman Hamrlik after a one-game absence with a lower body injury.
Canadiens head coach Jacques Martin decided to scratch rookie defenseman Yannick Weber and dress Alexandre Picard, while rookie forward Lars Eller will be a healthy scratch for a third straight game.
The goaltending matchup pits the Canadiens' Carey Price against the Bruins' Tim Thomas.
While Thomas is far and away the League's top goalie this season, he has historically struggled against the Canadiens with an 8-14-3 career record, 3.05 goals-against average and .906 save percentage. This season, his only start against Montreal was that 4-3 loss in December, though Thomas was excellent in that game with 41 saves.
Price has a career regular season mark against the Bruins of 11-2-2 with a 2.36 GAA and .926 save percentage, and this season he is 2-0-0 with a 2.00 GAA and .944 save percentage against Boston.