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Canadiens top scorer Pacioretty may return for series opener vs Ottawa

NHL.com @NHL

BROSSARD, Que. - If Max Pacioretty can handle some of the rough stuff in practice, the Montreal Canadiens' leading scorer may be playoff-ready.

The 37-goal man skated hard with teammates Monday, then opted to talk to media for the first time since he suffered an "upper-body" injury that looked suspiciously like a concussion April 5 in Florida.

There is a chance Pacioretty will be able to play when the Canadiens play host to the Ottawa Senators in the opening game of a best-of-seven first round playoff series Wednesday night at the Bell Centre.

He won't know if he's ready until he has a practice with some bumps and battles on Tuesday.

"That's the next step," Pacioretty said after what he called a special-teams practice. "You want to practice with full contact."

Pacioretty was injured when he was knocked down by the Panthers' Dmitry Kulikov and fell awkwardly against the boards. He was helped off the ice and did not return.

He would not confirm that he suffered a concussion, although he wore a tinted visor in practice. That is normally a sign of sensitivity to light, which hints at a concussion, even if Pacioretty said he only wore it to look cool.

"At this point of the year, I have an obligation to say I have an upper-body injury," he said. "Obviously, you don't want to give anybody a competitive edge by telling anybody what it is.

"I have an upper-body injury, but I feel really good."

Coach Michel Therrien said Pacioretty has responded well to treatment but could not confirm he will be ready for the series opener.

"We'll use him when he's ready, whether that's Wednesday, Friday (Game 2), Sunday (Game 3 in Ottawa). We don't know when," said Therrien.

The Senators will have one of their top forwards, Milan Michalek, back after missing the last 11 regular season games with an upper-body ailment.

Pacioretty's 67 points on a team ranked 18th in the NHL in goals scored meant he took part in 30 per cent of his team's output.

While he sat out, 21-year-old Alex Galchenyuk moved into his spot on left wing on the top line with Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher, but it left the club short of scoring forwards heading into a series against one of the NHL's hottest goalies.

The big matchup will be in goal, where Montreal's Carey Price is coming off a sensational season in which he led the NHL in wins (44), save percentage (.933), goals-against average (1.96) and was second in shutouts with nine.

Ottawa's Andrew Hammond didn't play enough for his numbers to count as a leader, but his record of 20-1-2 down the stretch was off the charts. The 27-year-old had a 1.79 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage.

"He's been playing very well and the team's played well in front of him," Price said of Hammond. "I'd expect he will continue that.

"He's been playing playoff style hockey over the last couple of months. We'll have to do the same thing we do to any goalie, get traffic in front."

The Canadiens will be looking to avenge a first-round loss to Ottawa two years ago, when Montreal was the favourite but ended up losing in five games to their closest geographic rival.

Therrien was impressed with the Senators.

"They made a pretty impressive push and I'm sure they'll be ready," said Therrien. "They're well coached. It's a good young team with lots of energy. Look at our team. It's the same thing. It should be a lot of fun."

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