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Bruins try to end slide against Canadiens

by Matthew Mankiewich
BRUINS (21-12-6) at CANADIENS (22-16-3)


Last 10 -- Boston 5-3-2, Montreal 4-5-1

Season series -- The Northeast Division rivals are meeting for the third time this season, with the first two going Montreal's way. In all, Montreal has a four-game winning streak over the Bruins and has won seven of the last eight since the start of last season. Of course, with these two it's never just about this season or last, but one of the most intense rivalries in all of sports. No two teams have met in more games, regular season or playoff, in the history of the NHL.

Big story -- As the other three teams in the Northeast Division continue to tread water, the fight for first place has turned into a two-team contest. The Habs were as comfortably on top as anyone could be early in the season, but a 2-8-0 stretch in December showed how tenuous early leads could be, opening the books for Boston. Montreal has gone 2-0-1 in its last three games, however, and it's a one-point race once again.

Team scope

Bruins -- The Bruins had a pretty good five-game road trip, picking up eight of a possible 10 points, but it's the one home game in a span of eight the B's would like to have back. A fluke goal by Cal Clutterbuck on Marc Savard's flubbed clearing attempt put the Wild ahead for an eventual 3-1 win, wasting a 31-save performance by Tuukka Rask. It's not the first time, of course. How else do you get a 3-8 record despite the NHL's fourth-best save percentage at .927?

"It's awful," forward Shawn Thornton said. "Kid plays that good for us all the time, we don't get the wins for him. We care about him and we should probably show it in a better way because he stood on his head for us pretty much every night."

Coach Claude Julien made some line adjustments at Friday's practice. Michael Ryder joined Marc Savard's line with Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton skated with David Krejci and Blake Wheeler.

Canadiens -- Surprisingly, before Wednesday the Canadiens had not participated in a shootout this season. Benoit Pouliot scored a highlight-reel goal in the fifth round, beating the Penguins 2-1. That was the good news. The bad news came when the Canadiens learned that defenseman Josh Gorges would need reconstructive surgery on his right knee, knocking him out of action for the season.

"You get it done and, in a month's time, you're walking around and you almost have full movement but it hasn't set yet," said Gorges to the Montreal Gazette. "The biggest thing is to be patient. You feel you can go in there and start doing your squats and your leg exercises but, if you push it too fast, it could be detrimental. That's going to be the hardest part for me is to not try to come back too quick."

The immediate effect of Gorges' loss will be on Hal Gill's playing time as he tries to help keep Montreal's penalty kill the best in the NHL. Gill was on the ice for more than three of the Pens' four total minutes on the power play and led the Habs with 26:02 on ice. James Wisniewski and Brett Festerling were acquired in trades as well to help shore up the blue line, which will also rely heavily on rookies P.K. Subban and Yannick Weber.

Who's hot -- Pouliot also scored a regulation goal against the Penguins, his first since Dec. 10. Scott Gomez had a three-game point streak stopped in the Pittsburgh game but still has 12 points in his last 11. Wisniewski's presence has already been felt with five points in four games since being acquired from the Islanders. … Boston's Patrice Bergeron has 10 points in his last 10 games.

Injury report -- Bruins defenseman Mark Stuart (broken hand) is expected back by late January, but has begun ramping up practices. Horton left practice early Friday with "a little discomfort," according to Julien. He will be re-evaluated tomorrow. … Canadiens defenseman Roman Hamrlik missed the Pittsburgh game with an undisclosed injury. He did participate in the morning skate and is listed as day-to-day.

Stat pack -- Montreal goalie Carey Price is 11-2-2 against the Bruins with a 2.34 goals-against average, but is 2-7-1 over his last 10 starts overall. … Boston's Tim Thomas leads the NHL in GAA (1.80) and save percentage (.945) but is 3-7-2 with a 3.37 GAA in the Bell Centre. … The Habs have outscored the B's 14-7 in their four straight wins. Bad clearing pass to Clutterbuck and subsequent benching aside, Savard has just six points in 16 games since returning from post-concussion symptoms and is a team-worst minus-8.

Puck drop -- "Well, personally, I like those kind of games. You know, there's a lot at stake and those are the games you kind of thrive [on]. You want those games to have meaning and you always want to make sure you come up on top -- there's no doubt there.

"This is an opportunity for us tomorrow to go there and you know we had a real good road trip...and you hope that you can regain that momentum that you had there.

"Those are to me two big games, Montreal and then you go to Pittsburgh (on Monday), then you come back home. But tomorrow night's an exciting night for me anyways." -- Julien on the Bruins' website

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