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Halak faces old team as Blues battle Canadiens

by Brian Hunter

CANADIENS (37-23-7) at BLUES (30-28-9)


Last 10:
Montreal 6-3-1; St. Louis 3-7-0

Season series:
This is the only meeting of the 2010-11 regular season between these teams. In the most recent matchup, on Jan. 20, 2010, St. Louis claimed a 4-3 victory over Montreal with Andy McDonald scoring 3:19 into overtime. The Canadiens had rallied to force the extra period on a Mike Cammalleri goal with 32.9 seconds left in regulation.

Big story: Jaroslav Halak, a hero in Montreal last spring during the team's surprising run to the Eastern Conference Finals, faces his former team for the first time in a St. Louis uniform, but the storyline is overshadowed somewhat by the scary incident in Tuesday's game against Boston when Max Pacioretty had to be taken off on a stretcher and hospitalized with a severe concussion and vertebra fracture in his neck. Bruins captain Zdeno Chara checked Pacioretty into the boards and he struck the glass partition between the benches. Chara received a major penalty for interference and a game misconduct, but no suspension. Pacioretty remained in the hospital Wednesday undergoing evaluation, and will be out indefinitely.

"The players feel for their teammate," coach Jacques Martin said in a prepared statement. "Max is a popular teammate. He is a young player learning the ropes of playing in the National Hockey League and he had some great mentors here."

Team Scope:

Canadiens: Rookie forward Lars Eller scored a pair of goals in the first period and Montreal added two more in the second to take a 4-0 lead prior to Pacioretty's injury. It was predictably difficult to concentrate after that, but the Canadiens held off the Bruins for a key 4-1 victory and closed to within three points of the Northeast Division lead.

"The most important thing is that we're all hoping Max is going to recover well and hopefully he’ll be back with us soon," Eller said. "We're happy we got the win and we played a really good team game today so we're happy about that.

"But I'll tell you, it wasn't easy. We talked about staying focused on the right things, but it's tough. At least we know now that Max is talking and he can move all his [extremities] so that makes us feel a little better."

Blues: Time is running out, but technically it's not too late for St. Louis to make a run at the playoffs. Halak returned from a hand injury Wednesday and stopped 19 shots as the Blues rallied from a three-goal deficit to defeat the Blue Jackets 4-3 in overtime. Chris Stewart scored the tying and winning goals. St. Louis also came back from 3-1 down to top Columbus 5-4 in a shootout on Monday.

"In the third period, we knew we were going to have to play," coach Davis Payne said. "We knew we wanted keep working and let effort create results. Our guys did that. We found a way to get to overtime and then a great play on a rush advantage gives us the win."

Who's hot: Andrei Kostitsyn has 3 goals and 6 assists during a seven-game points streak for the Canadiens. Rookie David Desharnais has 2 goals and 2 assists during a four-game points streak. Eller has 4 goals in his last five games. … Stewart has 3 goals and 2 assists during a four-game points streak for the Blues. It was his fourth multi-goal effort in 11 games since being acquired from the Avalanche.

Injury report: In addition to Pacioretty, forward Mathieu Darche (groin) and defenseman Jaroslav Spacek (knee) are sidelined for Montreal. … St. Louis forward Alexander Steen left Wednesday's game with a lower-body injury. Forward BJ Crombeen (shoulder) and defenseman Roman Polak (foot) missed the game and are day-to-day. Forwards David Perron (concussion), Philip McRae (knee) and Vladimir Sobotka (foot) are on injured reserve.

Stat pack: Halak won a career-high 26 games for the Canadiens last season. He added another nine during the playoffs, while posting a .923 save percentage despite seeing an average of 31.2 shots per game. In the first-round upset of the Capitals, Halak stopped 45 shots in a Game 1 win, 53 in Game 6 with the Habs facing elimination and 41 in Game 7 to help finish off their comeback from a 3-1 series deficit.

Puck drop: While the attention in this game will rest largely upon Halak, the goaltender Montreal chose to keep, Carey Price, leads the League with 32 wins and is tied for second with seven shutouts.

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