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Habs head to Minnesota for rare meeting with Wild

by Corey Masisak
CANADIENS (39-26-7) at WILD (35-29-8)

TV -- CBC (HD), RDS (HD), KSTC (HD).

Last 10 -- Montreal 7-3-0; Minnesota 2-6-2

Season series -- This is the lone meeting this season between the teams. Niklas Backstrom made 30 saves in a 3-1 Minnesota victory at Bell Centre on Dec. 17, 2009 in the only meeting last season.

Big story -- Montreal will try to get two points closer to Boston as the Canadiens pursue a Northeast Division title while Minnesota will try to keep its flickering postseason hopes alive.

Team Scope:

Canadiens -- Montreal's bid to chase down Boston hit a bump in the road Friday night at Madison Square Garden. The New York Rangers chased Carey Price from the net with five first-period goals en route to a 6-3 victory against the Canadiens. Montreal has won six of its past nine contests, including a pair of victories against Tampa Bay and one against Boston and Pittsburgh.

The loss may have been a blow for Price's Vezina Trophy chances, but it has still been a spectacular first full season as the No. 1 goaltender for the 23-year-old. Price was tied for the League lead with 34 victories entering Saturday's games, and was in the top 10 in both goals against average and save percentage. He was also tied with Carolina's Cam Ward for the most appearances by a netminder with 64.

Wild -- Minnesota was level with the eighth-place team in points in the Western Conference 12 days ago, but the Wild have crashed to the fringes of the postseason discussion with five straight losses. They put together a valiant rally from two goals down to force overtime against Columbus on Saturday but a turnover in the final minute of the extra session led to an easy goal for the Blue Jackets and another loss for the Wild.

Who's hot -- Andrei Kostitsyn has five goals and 11 points in his past 12 games for the Canadiens. Travis Moen has two of his five goals this season in the past four games. Mikko Koivu has two goals and six points in his past five games for Minnesota.

Injury report -- Montreal's lengthy injury list got longer after a Tuesday loss to Washington. Centers Tomas Plekanec and Jeff Halpern left the game with lower-body injuries and did not make the trip. Other forwards out of the lineup are Max Pacioretty (neck) and Mathieu Darche (groin). The bigger issue is on defense -- Andrei Markov and Josh Georges are out for the year, while Jaroslav Spacek is expected back near the end of the regular season. Hal Gill has missed the past two contests because of the flu. Deadline addition Brett Sopel hasn't played since March 10 because of a hand injury.

Minnesota was without defensemen Cam Barker (upper body) and Marek Zidlicky (hamstring) against the Blue Jackets, while Marco Scandella left the contest and did not return after blocking a shot. Left wing Guillaume Latendresse (lower body) and goaltender Josh Harding (knee) are also out.

Stat pack -- These two teams were tied for 10th in the League in penalty killing at 83.4 percent before Saturday, but Montreal had yielded four more power-play goals because the Canadiens had been shorthanded 25 more times. The teams also had similar power-play proficiencies -- Montreal was seventh at 19.5 percent and Minnesota was tied for eighth at 19.4. 

Puck drop -- All of the injuries have forced Montreal to recall several players from Hamilton of the AHL to fill in lineup spots. The most recent additions are rookie Aaron Palushaj and veteran Nigel Dawes to replace Plekanec and Halpern.

Palushaj was a second-round pick in the 2007 Entry Draft by St. Louis and was traded to Montreal for Matt D'Agostini last season at the trade deadline. He is still looking for his first NHL point after two games. Dawes has now played for five NHL teams in the past three seasons after beginning this year with Atlanta before being traded to Montreal with Sopel on Feb. 24.
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