CAPITALS (42-25-10) at CANADIENS (47-22-8)
TV: RDS, SNE, CSN-DC
MONTREAL -- Montreal Canadiens defenseman Tom Gilbert will return to the lineup Thursday against the Washington Capitals at Bell Centre.
Gilbert missed four games after he was struck in the face by a puck for a second game in a row on March 21. He has a clear plastic chin protector attached to his helmet that he will wear for the next 2-3 weeks.
"I think the biggest thing is you just get bumped all the time so it's going to get hit and move around," Gilbert said. "Once I get used to that, I won't even notice it."
Montreal, which went beyond regulation against Washington to win each of the first two games, has an opportunity to complete its first season series sweep of the Capitals in 24 years.
The Canadiens, who went 3-0-0 against Washington in 1990-91, will try to avoid the penalty box against the top-ranked power play in the NHL. The Capitals have scored 55 goals in 225 opportunities for a 24.4 percent success rate with the man-advantage.
Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin leads the NHL with 22 power-play goals.
"We were watching a lot of video this morning on them," Gilbert said. "They move the puck very well. Their power play is set up perfect for them. It's one of those things that you give them opportunities on the ice, they're going to score goals."
Montreal, which has five games remaining, leads the Atlantic Divison with 102 points, one ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning, which has one less game to play.
Washington currently holds the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference with 94 points. The Capitals are fourth in the Metropolitan Division, one point behind the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Islanders. All three teams have five games remaining.
"You have to be ready 100 percent every night, especially this time of year," Ovechkin said. “[Thursday’s] game and the next four games are going to be huge. We have to take some points and make sure we're going to be in."
Ovechkin became the sixth NHL player to score at least 50 goals in a season six times Tuesday with his 472nd goal, which tied Peter Bondra's franchise record.
"You know what he's capable of," Canadiens forward Devante Smith-Pelly said. "You give him too much space, you give him too many shots, chances are one is going to go in. Our group plays tight defensively and that game is obviously not going to change (Thursday) with him around."
Here are the projected lineups:
Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Joel Ward
Marcus Johansson – Nicklas Backstrom – Troy Brouwer
Brooks Laich – Eric Fehr – Jason Chimera
Curtis Glencross – Michael Latta – Tom Wilson
Brooks Orpik – John Carlson
Karl Alzner – Matt Niskanen
Tim Gleason - Mike Green
Injured: Jay Beagle (upper body), John Erskine (neck surgery)
Max Pacioretty – David Desharnais – Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau
Alex Galchenyuk – Tomas Plekanec – Brendan Gallagher
Jacob De La Rose – Lars Eller – Dale Weise
Brandon Prust – Torrey Mitchell – Devante Smith-Pelly
Andrei Markov – P.K. Subban
Alexei Emelin – Jeff Petry
Nathan Beaulieu – Tom Gilbert
Scratched: Greg Pateryn, Sergei Gonchar, Mike Weaver, Brian Flynn, Manny Malhotra
Status report: With two wins in a row, Capitals coach Barry Trotz will use the same lines for a third straight game, with Backstrom separated from Ovechkin, whose line is being centered by Kuznetzov.
"I think what it does, obviously the primary focus when they're both on the same line you would get a hard matchup, with a defense pairing and a matching line, be it a pure offensive line or a checking line," said Trotz, who has 599 NHL wins. "Now they have to make a decision, so it puts a little more pressure on them."
Beagle did not travel to Montreal. With Gilbert's return, Pateryn will sit after playing nine games in a row. Smith-Pelly, who was a healthy scratch for the past two games, draws into the lineup in place of Flynn. Otherwise, Canadiens coach Michel Therrien will continue with the line combinations he formed Monday in the third period of Montreal's 5-3 loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Who's hot: Niskanen has a four-game assists streak, and eight assists in his past seven games. Ovechkin has three goals and one assist in his past two games. Laich has one goal and three assists during a three-game point streak. Desharnais has a goal and three assists during a four-game point streak.