BLUE JACKETS (35-27-6) at CANADIENS (38-25-7)
TV: RDS, FS-O, TSN-HABS
Last 10: Columbus 6-3-1; Montreal 6-4-0
Season series: The Montreal Canadiens will be looking to sweep the season series against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the third and final game between the teams, but each of the first two games were close. Tomas Plekanec scored the game-winning goal with 1:07 to play in regulation, then scored into an empty net with 16 seconds to play in a 5-3 Montreal win on Oct. 17. David Desharnais scored the shootout winner in Columbus on Nov. 15.
Big story: The Blue Jackets are aiming to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second time in franchise history and are playing excellent hockey when it matters most. They will need to halt a three-game Canadiens win streak to continue a run where they have collected 13 of a possible 18 points in their past nine games.
The urgency for Columbus to bank points is made greater by the Blue Jackets' schedule to finish the season. They will play eight games in 12 days in April, with the final three coming on the road, and five of those games against teams that were in a playoff spot prior to games Wednesday.
Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets activated rugged forward Jared Boll off the injured reserve list Wednesday, giving coach Todd Richards 15 healthy forwards and eight healthy defensemen to choose from when setting his lineup.
Richards, however, suggested to the Columbus Dispatch he would like to maintain the lineup that lost 3-1 at home to the Carolina Hurricanes at home on Tuesday, the team's first regulation loss in five games. One could hardly blame him because the Blue Jackets fired 47 shots on goal in that game and were foiled by an outstanding performance from Hurricanes goaltender Anton Khudobin.
"I think Jared has worked hard," Richards told the Dispatch. "He wants to be part of this final stretch drive. He's a big part of this team, a big part of this franchise. The people in Columbus love him.
"I have a lot of respect for Jared and what he represents and what he does for this team. It's a no-brainer to get him back in the fold. It doesn't mean he is going to go in. It doesn't mean he is not going to go in. It's just us having him available and being a part of the team."
Boll was listed as a healthy scratch for Thursday along with forward RJ Umberger, allowing forward Cam Atkinson to get back in the lineup.
Canadiens: The hat trick by Thomas Vanek got most of the attention in the Canadiens' 6-3 win at home against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday, but one of the biggest benefits Vanek gives Montreal is how his arrival at the NHL Trade Deadline solidified the other forward lines.
Vanek is playing with Desharnais and Max Pacioretty on the top line, bumping Brendan Gallagher to the second line, and captain Brian Gionta to the third line. As a result of having all the spots filled in the top nine, Montreal's fourth line has been solidified with Travis Moen, Brandon Prust and Dale Weise playing together the past three games. Each scored in the win Tuesday.
"We're fighting for a playoff spot and it's kind of a seesaw match almost every game," Moen said. "You're trying to gain ground on the teams below you and keep up with the teams ahead of you. Having a solid four lines of scoring is huge."
Who's hot: Blue Jackets forward Boone Jenner has two goals and an assist in his past four games. … Desharnais has two goals and four assists during a four-game point streak.
Injury report: Columbus defenseman Ryan Murray (lower body) is out. … Montreal forward Brandon Prust (upper body) and defenseman Josh Gorges (broken hand) are out.