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Canadiens-Bruins Preview @NHLdotcom

The last time the Boston Bruins finished first in the Eastern Conference, they were eliminated by Montreal in the opening round of the playoffs.

Even if the Canadiens make this year's postseason, they don't appear to be much of an upset threat.

The Bruins, mostly concerned with staying healthy down the stretch, look to keep their struggling longtime rivals from clinching a postseason spot Thursday night.

Boston (51-18-10) has secured the top seed in the East, but its first-round opponent has yet to be determined. The Bruins finished first in 2001-02, only to be stunned in six games by eighth-seeded Montreal.

The Canadiens (41-29-10) were the top seed last season and beat first-round opponent Boston in seven games before being eliminated by Philadelphia. Now, the Canadiens are just hoping to find a way into the postseason after hurting their chances with two straight losses.

Montreal, which has a one-point lead over the eighth-place New York Rangers, can earn a playoff spot with a win or by forcing overtime. The Canadiens can back into the postseason if ninth-place Florida loses one of its final two games.

"We can't get upset and pack it in now," said Montreal goaltender Carey Price, whose team concludes the regular season at home against Pittsburgh on Saturday night. "It's too important. The good news is, we get another chance to clinch."

The Canadiens, though, have totaled three goals in their last two contests and have been held to two or fewer in each of their last four games against the Bruins.

Boston is 7-0-1 at home after losing its previous three, but had a six-game winning streak snapped in a 3-2 loss at Ottawa on Tuesday night.

Phil Kessel's return didn't help the Bruins overcome the Senators, who beat the Canadiens 3-2 on Monday night. The third-year winger played after missing five games with an undisclosed injury and scored his team-leading 32nd goal.

Defenseman Andrew Ference, however, missed the game due to an undisclosed injury and is out for the rest of the regular season. Winger P.J. Axelsson and defenseman Dennis Wideman also remained in Boston due to undisclosed injuries, and their status for Thursday is uncertain.

"That's what we're trying to accomplish here is get a healthy team together," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "We've got some guys ... that are hopefully going in that direction, and this is the luxury that I guess we have right now."

Montreal is also dealing with health issues, as it's expected to be without top defensemen Andrei Markov (knee) and Mathieu Schneider (shoulder) for the rest of the regular season. Both players were hurt in a victory over Toronto on Saturday night, and the Canadiens haven't won since.

Montreal lost 3-1 to the Rangers on Tuesday night despite getting Price back in net. The All-Star made 41 saves after missing three games due to the flu but gave up a soft goal early in the second period.

Price bounced a pass off the skate of teammate Josh Gorges, allowing Nik Andropov to dive and poke the puck in.

"We can't get upset and pack it in now," Price said. "It's too important. The good news is, we get another chance to clinch. It's too bad it didn't work out tonight."

Price struggled in his last game at Boston, making 25 saves in a 6-1 loss Nov. 13.

The Bruins have won the last four matchups with the Canadiens this season after dropping the first two in shootouts. They had lost the previous 10 meetings in regulation.

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