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Canadiens closing in on home ice for first round

by Arpon Basu

MONTREAL -- The Montreal Canadiens can clinch home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs as early as Thursday as long as they get a point at home against the New York Islanders.

The Canadiens have a three-point lead in the Atlantic Division standings on their first-round opponent, the Tampa Bay Lightning, who play at home against the Philadelphia Flyers. If Montreal ends the night with a four-point lead on Tampa Bay, it will guarantee Game 1 of the series will be played at Bell Centre.

The Canadiens will have to attempt to clinch that privilege Thursday without the services of forward Alex Galchenyuk, who left a 3-2 overtime road loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday in the first period with a lower-body injury. George Parros will take his place in the lineup.

That doesn't compare to the situation facing the Islanders, who have seven prominent players injured and will have 11 rookies in uniform against the Canadiens, more than half the lineup.

"It's a big challenge," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "Obviously you want to win hockey games, but right now for these guys more importantly it's a process every day and you're trying to teach, trying to communicate as coaches so that when they leave when the season's over they know how we need to play."

Capuano will find a familiar face on the Canadiens, forward Thomas Vanek, who came to Montreal from New York prior to the NHL Trade Deadline after forming a potent line with forwards John Tavares and Kyle Okposo.

Capuano said the potency Vanek brings to the Canadiens on a line with Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais could lead Montreal far in the playoffs.

"He's a world-class player, there's no [other] way to break it down," Capuano said. "He's a guy that can make plays. I think you saw it with him and Johnny when they were together, and watching him with [Pacioretty] and [Desharnais], it's probably one of the best lines in the National Hockey League right now. He can make those subtle little plays around the net and he's a highly skilled guy.

"The way they're playing right now, especially with their back end and their goaltending, this is a team that can challenge for a Stanley Cup."

The Canadiens will start goaltender Carey Price after he and defensemen Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin did not go to Chicago with their teammates to get some rest. Markov and Emelin are back in the lineup, but Lars Eller will miss a second straight game with a virus.

Canadiens defenseman Douglas Murray will be in uniform after serving a three-game suspension for an illegal check to the head of Lightning defenseman Michael Kostka.

Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov will start for the Islanders after Anders Nilsson started the past two games.

Here are the projected lineups:


Anders LeeFrans NielsenJosh Bailey

John PerssonBrock NelsonRyan Strome

Brett GallantJohan SundstromMike Halmo

Matt MartinCasey CizikasColin McDonald

Thomas HickeyTravis Hamonic

Kevin CzuczmanScott Mayfield

Matt DonovanMatt Carkner

Evgeni Nabokov

Anders Nilsson

Scratched: Radek Martinek, Matt Donovan

Injured: John Tavares (knee), Kyle Okposo (lower body), Lubomir Visnovsky (concussion), Brian Strait (hand), Michael Grabner (upper body), Cal Clutterbuck (upper body), Calvin de Haan (lower body)


Max PaciorettyDavid DesharnaisThomas Vanek

Michael BournivalTomas PlekanecBrendan Gallagher

Rene BourqueDaniel BriereBrian Gionta

George ParrosRyan WhiteDale Weise

Andrei MarkovAlexei Emelin

Josh GorgesP.K. Subban

Douglas MurrayMike Weaver

Carey Price

Peter Budaj

Scratched: Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu, Lars Eller

Injured: Brandon Prust (upper body), Travis Moen (concussion), Alex Galchenyuk (lower body)

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