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Blackhawks, Canadiens fight for playoff positioning

by Brian Hedger

CANADIENS (45-27-7) at BLACKHAWKS (45-19-15)


Last 10: Montreal 8-2-0; Chicago 6-4-0

Season series: The Montreal Canadiens beat the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1 in overtime on the second goal of the game by defenseman Andrei Markov on Jan. 11 at Bell Centre, the only other game between them this season.

Big story: The Blackhawks have won three straight games but trail the Colorado Avalanche for second place in the Central Division and the home-ice advantage that spot provides in the Western Conference First Round. Montreal is trying to hold off the Tampa Bay Lighting to keep the second spot in the Eastern Conference's Atlantic Division.

Team Scope:

Canadiens: Montreal will not have its usual top defense pairing against the Blackhawks because Markov and Alexei Emelin didn't make the trip; neither did No.1 goaltender Carey Price. Canadiens coach Michel Therrien is trying to get them some rest prior to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but still expects his team to compete for the two points.

"Nothing has changed for us," Therrien said. "We're going to Chicago to win. We want to play good hockey; inspired, solid hockey. We want to continue preparing for the playoffs and win the most games possible."

Defenseman Josh Gorges will return from a 15-game absence needed to heal a broken bone in his hand and will pair with P.K. Subban to form a new top defense duo. Defenseman Douglas Murray will also stay back in Montreal while serving the final game of a three-game suspension for an illegal check to the head of Lightning defenseman Michael Kostka. Goaltender Peter Budaj will get the start and Dustin Tokarski will be his backup.

Blackhawks: Chicago has gotten back to basics in its scheme the past three games and came out with six out of six points. The Blackhawks will get puck-moving defenseman Johnny Oduya back from a lower-body injury that held him out three games. They'll also have 21-year old forward Brandon Saad back in the lineup after coach Joel Quenneville made him a healthy scratch in a 4-2 victory Sunday against the St. Louis Blues.

"Sitting a game out and watching definitely gives you the hunger to be better and get back in the lineup," Saad said. "You kind of take it as it comes. I mean, we had a meeting and talked about it. It's a wake-up call, really, a reality check. I think as a young guy, it's something that [Quenneville] teaches well and that's why young players have success here, because he expects the most out of them and for them to play well."

Forward Patrick Kane (lower-body injury) might participate in the morning skate, which is being broadcast live through the Blackhawks' website, but neither he nor captain Jonathan Toews (upper-body injury) will return until the first round of the playoffs.

Who's hot: Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty has scored in six of his past eight games and finished with a point in eight of the previous 10 contests (nine goals, six assists). Defenseman Mike Weaver has at least a point in four straight games and has a plus-12 rating in the past 10 games. … Blackhawks forwards Ben Smith and Jeremy Morin each have scored goals in the past two games.

Injury report: Montreal forward Travis Moen (concussion) and left wing Brandon Prust (upper body) are out. … Aside from Toews and Kane, Oduya's return means veteran goalie Nikolai Khabibulin is the only other Blackhawks injury. He's sidelined for the rest of the season after rotator cuff surgery.

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