- The Canadiens held an optional skate at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg on Thursday morning ahead of their tilt against the Winnipeg Jets.
- Fifteen players took part in the on-ice session, in addition to both goaltenders. Missing were Lars Eller, P.K. Subban, Dale Weise, David Desharnais, Tomas Plekanec, Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau and Jeff Petry. All of them, however, should be in the lineup, as head coach Michel Therrien confirmed at Wednesday’s practice that there would be no lineup changes aside from Dustin Tokarski getting the start in goal.
- In Tokarski’s case, Thursday night’s outing will mark his 15th start of the season.
“It’s a great opportunity for him to play in Winnipeg. It will be special,” offered Therrien. “We want to play well in front of Ticker. We believe in him and the guys want to be good teammates.”
Following the morning skate, the Canadiens made that perfectly clear, adamant that they were committed to helping the Watson, SK native leave Winnipeg with his seventh victory of the season.
“It’s special for him to be so close to his family. He’ll have a lot of friends in the stands cheering for him. It’s a classy move on the part of the coaching staff to give him the start,” explained assistant captain Max Pacioretty. “The last time we played in front of him, we had success and I’m hoping it will be the same story tonight.”
Tokarski’s last start came back on March 17 in Sunrise when the Canadiens bested the Florida Panthers by a score of 3-2. The 25-year-old netminder stopped 41 of 43 shots against, including 21 shots in the third period alone.
- For their part, Paul Maurice’s contingent will welcome Dustin Byfuglien back to the lineup after missing the last nine games with an upper-body injury. The gritty rearguard boasts 15 goals and 42 points in 65 games during the 2014-15 campaign. He’s also chipped in with a team-leading 195 hits and 118 penalty minutes.
- Entering Thursday night’s contest, the Jets find themselves clinging to the second wild card spot in the Western Conference with 88 points, two points up on the Los Angeles Kings. With eight games remaining on their regular season schedule, Winnipeg will be doing everything conceivably possible to rack up points in order to secure their first postseason berth since the franchise returned to the Manitoban capital for the 2011-12 season.
“We know they like to play in this building. They come out with a lot of speed and a lot of intensity. They’re hungry for points right now. They’re in a pretty important playoff race. We know it’s not going to be easy. They’re going to play physical and they’re going to make it tough,” offered Brendan Gallagher, referencing the Jets’ impressive 20-11-5 record in the friendly confines of their own building. “For us, we just need to focus on the same things that we always do to have success and not worry about them too much. We need to focus on what we need to do to come away with two points.”
In this case, that means showing up with the same type of effort they displayed on Tuesday night in Nashville, when they dropped a 3-2 overtime decision to one of the top teams in the Western Conference. Despite picking up just a single point, the Canadiens put up a good fight against Peter Laviolette’s squad at Bridgestone Arena. Simply put, they’ll have to do it again to collect that extra point this time around.
“We know that they’ve certainly got a lot of motivation,” mentioned Gallagher, who has two goals and four points in six career games against the Jets. “As of late, we’ve definitely upped our intensity level to match the desperation of teams we’re facing. We’re focusing on what we need to do to be playing our best hockey going into playoffs. We have enough motivation. We know the Jets are playing the same way.”
- Puck drop is scheduled for 8 p.m. EST. The game will be broadcast on RDS and Sportsnet East.
Words From The Room - March 26
Game Preview: Canadiens @ Jets
This is the one
Getting in gear