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At the Rink: Canadiens at Jets

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG -- The Montreal Canadiens can clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs when they visit the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; RDS, SNE, TSN3).

The Canadiens became the first team to reach 100 points Tuesday. They can clinch a playoff spot if they defeat the Jets in regulation or overtime, and the Anaheim Ducks defeat the Boston Bruins in any fashion, or if the Bruins beat the Ducks in a shootout.

Montreal also can qualify with a shootout win against Winnipeg if Anaheim defeats Boston in any fashion. Montreal also would clinch a spot with one point against Winnipeg if Anaheim wins against Boston in regulation.

The Jets start a four-game homestand in a far more precarious position than the Canadiens. Winnipeg holds the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference; the Los Angeles Kings are two points behind the Jets and hold a game in hand.

"It's the time of the [season] that teams play for different challenges," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said Thursday after an optional morning skate. "We're playing against a team tonight that is playing for their [playoff] lives and we're in a good position, fighting for a good position in the playoffs to try to get home-ice [advantage] as much as we can."

Dustin Tokarski will start in goal for the Canadiens. Carey Price, who is sixth in the League with 60 games, will get a rare break.

Therrien otherwise will use the same lineup that he used in a 3-2 overtime road loss against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday.

Canadiens center Max Pacioretty sees playing the Jets as good preparation for the pace of playoff hockey.

"We think in this room that we've got to tighten up a few things and get some momentum going into the playoffs and it's a good test for us tonight," he said. "[Winnipeg] is playing desperate hockey right now. They're playing playoff-style hockey right now and I think that with eight games remaining we've got to get into that mode as well."

Jets coach Paul Maurice will have defenseman Dustin Byfuglien back in the lineup. Byfuglien has missed the past nine games because of an upper-body injury.

"[Byfuglien] is full-go," Maurice said. "We've run [defensemen Tyler Myers and Jacob Trouba] probably harder than we would have if [Byfuglien] had been in the lineup, and it would be good to cut a few minutes back [for Myers and Trouba]."

Winnipeg center Bryan Little (upper body) remains out of the lineup, as do left wing Mathieu Perreault (lower body) and defenseman Ben Chiarot (upper body). Maurice said that each player is nearing a return to the lineup but they will not be available Thursday.

The game Thursday begins a challenging homestand for the Jets, who will later host the Chicago Blackhawks and New York Rangers. In all, three of the top seven teams in the League will visit MTS Centre in the next week. Winnipeg swept a three-game homestand last week against the San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals.

"We've got a tough schedule down the stretch," Jets right wing Blake Wheeler said. "We're playing good teams. But when we make the playoffs we're going to be playing good teams anyway, so that doesn't deter us from what we're trying to do."

The Jets will start goaltender Ondrej Pavelec.

Here are the projected lineups:

CANADIENS

Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau

Alex Galchenyuk - Tomas Plekanec - Brendan Gallagher

Jacob De La Rose - Lars Eller - Dale Weise

Brandon Prust - Torrey Mitchell - Devante Smith-Pelly

Andrei Markov - P.K. Subban

Alexei Emelin - Jeff Petry

Nathan Beaulieu - Greg Pateryn

Dustin Tokarski

Carey Price

Scratched: Brian Flynn, Sergei Gonchar, Manny Malhotra, Mike Weaver

Injured: Tom Gilbert (upper body)

JETS

Andrew Ladd - Adam Lowry - Michael Frolik

Drew Stafford - Mark Scheifele - Blake Wheeler

Jiri Tlusty - Jim Slater - Lee Stempniak

Chris Thorburn - Eric O'Dell - Matt Halischuk

Toby Enstrom - Tyler Myers

Mark Stuart - Jacob Trouba

Adam Pardy - Dustin Byfuglien

Ondrej Pavelec

Michael Hutchinson

Scratched: Andrew Copp, Keaton Ellerby, TJ Galiardi, Jay Harrison, Anthony Peluso

Injured: Ben Chiarot (upper body) Grant Clitsome (back), Bryan Little (upper body), Mathieu Perreault (lower body), Paul Postma (lower body)

Status report: Maurice said he is hopeful Chiarot, Little and Perreault will be able to play by April 4 against the Vancouver Canucks, if not sooner. … The Jets signed Copp to a three-year entry-level contract. The Jets selected Copp, 20, in the fourth round (No. 104) of the 2013 NHL Draft. Copp played three seasons at the University of Michigan; he will report to the Jets but will not dress against Montreal.

Who's hot: Gallagher has three goals in his past three games. … Stafford has four goals and five assists during a seven-game points streak, the longest of his career and longest active in the League. … Pavelec has five consecutive wins; in that span he has a .967 save percentage, 0.98 goals-against average and one shutout. … Winnipeg is 11-2-2 in its past 15 games at home.

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